Local soccer tournament turns 25

Kickers in effect this weekend

by Than Acuff 

It’s hard to believe, given the boom and bust cycle of local adult soccer, but the West Elk Soccer Association has come in to keep a tradition alive. Adult coed soccer teams from throughout Colorado will roll into town on Saturday and Sunday, June 15-16 for the 25th Annual Crested Butte Invitational soccer tournament.

Soccer has a long history in the town of Crested Butte, dating back to the 1970s when folks gathered in a cow pasture to play the game. Jamie Watt has been a part of the local soccer scene since 1980 and recalls a fairly vibrant soccer community back in the day.

“I know we always had enough for two teams to play each other two days a week,” recalls Watt. “It seems like we had better participation back then than we do now.”

Back then there was only one tournament available for the Crested Butte team to play.

“We’d go to Telluride every summer. That was our only tournament,” says Watt.

During the mid to late 1980s and into the early 1990s, the game picked up in interest as a host of fresh, young talent arrived to town bringing experience that ranged from high school soccer stardom to Division I collegiate talent. Watt started the Crested Butte tournament 25 years ago and the weekend would draw six teams to vie for the title. But the games typically extended beyond the actual field, carrying over into Saturday night with bar games to determine the unofficial party champion.

“One year we went through five kegs,” says Watt.

The Kickers expanded into a traveling road show of sorts, hitting the Colorado tournament circuit and taking it as far as Las Vegas for a couple of years to compete in the desert heat. Oftentimes, the team would have a traveling section of fans in tow, known as the Hibachi Brothers, as they hit towns like Grand Junction, Aspen, Winter Park and Telluride over the summer season.

“We had guys that would bring a couch with them and sit on the sidelines,” says Watt.

While the talent was always there, there lacked a finishing touch as the Kickers would often fall short of pre-tournament expectations and end up with the early game on Sunday, aka the Toilet Bowl, and finish the weekend washing the pain away at the Portal bar in the Western Slope mining town of Somerset.

The Kickers eventually cracked the finals one summer, winning the tournament in Grand Junction and their home tournament. But, as that early 1990s influx aged and fell by the wayside, the team struggled to garner the excitement of years gone by. Players would emerge to at least field a team, because no-shows are the lowest form of humanity, but wins were hard to come by, until recently.

While Watt has been there since the beginning and still keeps an eye on the home tournament, local soccer club West Elk Soccer Association has now taken the reigns of the organizational side of things and is bringing in 12 teams this year in an effort to help raise money for the youth soccer club.

The Kickers this year are riding an upswing in talent and a new youth movement heading into the 25th annual. Former local high school players left Crested Butte for college but have since returned and are a driving force on the team this year. In addition, Drew Canale is back from his loan to a Philadelphia-based soccer club, the Hulksters. Speaking of Philadelphia and local soccer lore, while unavailable for comment, 30-year veteran Brian Fenerty will be lacing up the boots as well.

You can catch the Kickers in action on Saturday at 8 a.m. at Rainbow field and again at 11 a.m. at the CBCS field. The tournament finals are Sunday at 1 p.m. at Rainbow.

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