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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, July 07, 2018 1:00 am

Local Soccer Festival to end

Organizers say next month's 20th edition to be final

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette


Aug. 17

At Saint Francis

Michigan State vs. Xavier, 6 p.m.

Indiana vs. Akron, 8 p.m.

Saint Francis vs. Huntington, 10 p.m.

Aug. 18

At Indiana Tech

Carroll vs. Cathedral boys, 8 a.m.

Indiana Tech vs. Bethel women, 11 a.m.

Homestead vs. Zionsville boys, 1 p.m.

Canterbury vs. Bishop Luers boys, 3 p.m.

Canterbury vs. Bishop Luers girls, 5 p.m.

Indiana Tech vs. Marian men, 7 p.m.

Trine vs. Huntington women, 9 p.m.

After 20 years, the region's biggest soccer festival is coming to an end with one final invitational Aug. 17-18, National Soccer Festival organizers announced Friday. The nationally renowned festival will take place at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium at Saint Francis and Warrior Field at Indiana Tech.

The decision to end the event after 20 years was multifaceted, but talk of discontinuing the festival came after title sponsor Shindigz pulled out.

“We had a meeting and discussed several things,” longtime organizer Terry Stefankiewicz said. “It's our 20th year, and somebody said, 'I think it's a good time to close it down.' We had quite a few conversations before we decided that was the direction we were going to go.”

This year's schedule includes Indiana facing Akron, and Michigan State playing Xavier, as well as a slew of high school and local college games throughout the weekend.

“Michigan State and Indiana have been here all 20 years,” Stefankiewicz said. “I think there's well over 5,000 high school kids that have participated. What a great chance to all come out one final time to say goodbye to Michigan State and Indiana.”

The festival, which began in 1999 as the IPFW Soccer Showcase, was the brainchild of Stefankiewicz. The beginnings came three years earlier in 1996 when Stefankiewicz, then the IPFW men's soccer coach, brought Indiana, Marquette and Alabama-Birmingham to the now-torn down Memorial Stadium, which was near Memorial Coliseum.

It was proof Fort Wayne could attract major collegiate soccer programs at a time when the Mastodons were still Division II.

“That kind of whet our appetites saying, 'Wow, we could bring big names here,'” Stefankiewicz said, listing national championship programs such as Notre Dame, Indiana, Ohio State, Saint Louis, Virginia and North Carolina.

“ They've all been here.”

According to Dan O'Connell of Visit Fort Wayne, the festival adds $75,000 to $100,000 to the area annually, but the real impact has been within the community.

“The hosting of the National Soccer Festival has never been about economic impact,” he said.

“What it's been about is bringing prestigious national programs and having an invitational for many local soccer teams and local college teams, ... for the soccer community to see them all in one place.

“That's why it gets 6,000 to 8,000 people. It also gives an opportunity to spend some time with kids before they leave for school.”

Friday's announcement was met with disappointment among the area's college coaches who have participated in the event for years.

“I think it's the kind of announcement that will force people to realize what an opportunity we had for the duration of the event,” former Indiana Tech men's soccer coach David Bokhart said.

“It's the kind of thing I think that people will miss when it's gone.”

Bokhart added that area residents have become used to having the event every August and might not be aware of the festival's significance.

vs. being aware of what it meant because we're just so used to it turning over every year in August.

“I think it'll definitely leave a void in the local sports calendar,” he said. “It's disappointing, but I understand the stress of organizing the event.”

Purdue Fort Wayne men's soccer coach Mike Harper played in the games at Memorial Stadium and coached teams that participated in the tournament.

“It's been a staple in Fort Wayne, so it's sad,” he said. “It was awesome. Just having played in the first one, having IU, Marquette, UAB; it was just four teams, so it was small and to see it grow. ... It was awesome to see the caliber of teams come to Fort Wayne.”

With the timing of it, the quality of competition for preseason matches was unparalleled in the area, in addition to the crowds it would draw.

There were other benefits for the area's smaller college programs as well.

“I think it brought awareness of our program to the community and you see it directly in the result of that with local or regional players that ended up on our roster,” Bokhart said.

“That included those from out of state that came to play in high school like the kids from Michigan. We had a chance to see them with their high school team, they had a chance to see Tech play and a relationship was cultivated through that.”

As spectators, players could also learn directly from watching the high level of play, much as many on the Saint Francis men's team did.

“I think we had a lot of younger players that would come out, and we would talk about how teams would defend at that level,” Saint Francis coach Mitch Ellison said. “So it gave them good opportunities instead of watching soccer on television, where you don't get to see the whole picture. ... You gain something from watching teams play and you can see everyone on the field moving.

“I think that was a good experience for my guys.”

The future of the Indiana-Notre Dame spring game is up in the air with the efforts being put toward the fall festival.