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Snowballs and soccer balls

Sun., Feb. 3, 2008

The Spokane Valley Junior Soccer League’s River City Steelers hosted Juventus – no, not the club from Turin, Italy, the one from Vancouver, Wash. – in an outdoor soccer tournament Saturday at Plantes Ferry Park.

Yes, outdoors. It may not have been during a snowstorm, but it was frigid.

As the players went through their warm-ups, parents huddled on the sidelines, wrapped in blankets.

That was, until the game started. As soon as the whistle blew, the efforts on the field turned took their attention from frozen toes and red noses as the cheering and good-natured heckling began.

It was the State Cup, after all, and soccer parents really get into the game.

“Yeah, I guess if you show up for something like this, then there’s pretty much nothing you won’t do for your kid,” said Robert Harris, whose son Randall is No. 99 on the Steelers team. “I mean, the kids love it. They just want to play – give them a ball and that’s what they do.”

Volunteers helped clear a week’s worth of snow off the soccer field, down to the hay-colored turf. Still, players struggled to keep their footing in the half-inch of mud quickly generated on the frozen ground. Their cleats acted more like skates than brakes.

“Of course we worry about them falling and skidding around out there,” said Ken Fish, manager of the Steelers, a team that formed last fall. “But hey, we have two doctors – married to each other – among the parents, so we figure we’re covered.”

The game was on despite school-canceling snowfall over the past week and a declaration of a severe weather emergency by the governor.

“We already had the nonrefundable plane tickets, so I told them we’re playing, we’re coming,” said Paige Grening, manager of Juventus. “All the other games scheduled today were canceled because of the weather.”

The Steelers and their parents went out of their way to be good hosts for Juventus when the visiting team discovered it couldn’t bring the usual load of tents, tarps, heaters and blankets on the plane.

“They have just been so wonderful to us,” Grening said. “Look at this – they got us propane heaters, a tent to sit under, extra chairs. They got us Starbucks and those little hand-warmer things. … That means so much when the weather is like this.”

Juventus could claim a snow advantage: The team played with snow on the ground in Lacey, Wash.

“I thought it was going to be white out here, too,” Grening said. “I can’t believe that they were able to clear the field down to the grass. I just can’t believe it.”

After two 35-minute periods, Juventus beat the Steelers 3-1.

“It was too bad, it was too bad,” said Harris after the game.

But the defeated team was looking forward to some more traditional winter fun.

“We’re going snowboarding tomorrow morning,” Harris said.

“We are going up to Silver Mountain and taking a lot of the team up there with us. That’s definitely going to be great fun.”


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