At a media reception on July 9, the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club unveiled plans for the 2014 Fabio Belli Memorial Soccer Tournament.
The event replaces, in name only, what was formerly the Impact Soccer Tournament for a few years, following in the footsteps of the highly successful Panhellenic Tournament that spanned more than a decade.
Though the absence of Belli, who passed away suddenly in April of this year, along with the switch of weekends to accommodate other large-scale tourism events in Sudbury, created some challenges, GSSC president Dino Moretta was adamant the tournament must go on.
"I think I share some of the same values as Fabio, in terms of how important sports are to a community, to the development of a child," said the man who worked very closely with Belli as the event moved from the hands of the Panhellenic group to the new one-club competitive soccer organization.
"I sensed his passion, and I wanted to use this opportunity to help keep his memory alive by renaming the tournament."
While it has seldom been easy to attract teams from the south to Sudbury, the decision by the Ontario Soccer Association to limit all U12 divisions to a "festival only format" (max two games a day, no scores kept, no championship games) has forced tournament organizers to re-think the future direction of the event.
"What I would like to see is all the various recreational clubs within Sudbury get involved, because the whole point of a festival is just to go out and play some soccer, to emulate what it was like to just play in your backyard as kids," said Moretta. "That's the vision of the OSA under Long-Term Athlete Development."
In his mind, the divisions from U13 up would continue to fall more in line with what has been traditionally seen at the July tournament, hopefully benefiting from the increased exposure provided by Impact reps currently competing across the province.
"The nine teams playing out of district are wonderful ambassadors for Sudbury," he said. "The teams they are playing against realize how good the quality of soccer is."
Players from two of those Impact teams were on hand for the media reception, with members of both the U13 boys and U13 girls filling the Brookview Room of the Travelodge Hotel.
"You want to win more because you're in your hometown," acknowledged Impact U13 girls keeper Korey Bodson. "When you go out of town, it's all new. You don't know anything. When you're in your home town, it's easier, I find."
Competing in the Central Girls Soccer League for the very first time, the team brought together players from two former adversaries, providing a unified front to tackle top-end competition from across Ontario.
"In our first game, we had never really played together on the big field," said Bodson. "Once we got used to it, we got better as we went on. I think that it was good for us to play against the harder teams first, because now we know that we have to push ourselves harder."
On the boys side, Andrew Varghese (Impact U13) shares Bodson's sentiments with regards to having an advantage when competing locally.
"It's good to know that we have all the people in Sudbury behind us," said the 12-year-old defender.
"Because it's our home, we know the fields, we know every single bump. The other teams will feel less comfortable on the field than we do."
Like the girls, the Impact lads have made the jump to the Central Soccer League for the first time ever, still adjusting to the top-end GTA teams that are among the league front-runners.
"We still have only been together for six months, so we don't communicate yet as well as other teams now," said Varghese. "But I'm sure if we work hard enough and practise hard enough, we can learn to pass better, move the ball better, learn to be better as a team."
The 2014 Fabio Belli Memorial Soccer Tournament will take place on July 19-20, with games scheduled for both the James Jerome Sports Complex, as well as the Howard Armstrong Sports Complex in Valley East.
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