They say “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” and for the 2019 NIRSA National Soccer Championship that statement could not have been any truer. A tournament record 99 teams made their way to Round Rock, Texas—which is twenty minutes north of Austin—to compete for the opportunity to be crowned national victor and gain bragging rights for the year. The tournament began with cooler temperatures, but the excitement and action of divisional pool play and playoffs heated the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex throughout the weekend. While last year saw torrential rain and postponements for the championships, this year brought sunshine and proper fruition as teams from the Championship, Open, and Unified divisions brought spirited play to the 26th annual contest.
Kicking it into gear
Teams began checking into Round Rock on Wednesday, getting rosters set and making the changes necessary to ensure eligibility and that personnel were registered. A Wednesday arrival also gave teams time to relax and plot strategy as Thursday would begin the pool play. The next morning, teams could be seen taking repetitions and honing their offensive and defensive schemes so they could be prepared going into the first set of games that day. The battles continued throughout the day and into Friday as teams began to jostle for position in pool play to gain the upper hand and advance to bracket play. During bracket play, the teams continued to bring the energy and passion as each game represented their last opportunity to move forward toward the championship.
A mix of familiar faces and new competitors took the stage during the tournament and all of the action was chronicled in the NIRSA Play Blog. The blog was a fantastic way to see updates and outcomes for teams and gave those individuals who could not view the tournament in person a look into how each hour of games was shaping up and how teams were falling into place for the brackets. The blog also provided some amazing individual call-outs to participants who had impactful and stellar game lines.
The @NIRSAChamp Twitter and Instagram accounts were also brimming with updates, videos, and pictures from the tournament. Hundreds of tweets and clips told a story of amazing goals, defensive prowess, and energetic play. The @NIRSAChamp Instagram story was abuzz with inside action and live game play. The Men’s and Women’s Championship Division final games were webcast live through the NIRSA Championship Series YouTube account, allowing friends, family, and soccer enthusiasts worldwide to enjoy the championship match-ups and cheer on their favorite teams from afar.
Service with a smile: Volunteers in action
A tournament of this magnitude relies heavily on proven leadership and a fantastic group of professional volunteers and student officials. The tournament had plenty of veteran leadership from all over the nation, led by the NIRSA Championship Series Soccer Work Team Chair Jon Janis. Jon—along with the vast number of directors, assistant directors, and volunteers—was an important piece of the puzzle that formed a successful tournament.
Each of our committee roles offer a different learning experience that has a long lasting effect on volunteers’ professional careers. Officials Committee members are challenged to elevate their understanding of soccer given the exceptional play that came to the national tournament. The members of the Competition Committee and All-American Committee learn to work under intense time constraints all while pushing out accurate information. And the Operations Committee provides excellent customer service to the volunteer staff, participants, and patrons of the complex.
While most of the attention is focused on the in-game action, it’s the actions of all committees that make the tournament run. Vinnie Daino of Pittsburgh State, a volunteer at the tournament, says, “The NIRSA Soccer Championships is the one event I look forward to each year! The staff and facilities are always amazing! Very long days, but working with first-year staff, rec GA’s, and professionals young and old is an energizing experience. Seeing and talking with the participants gives you the feeling of great accomplishment. These young adults had an experience they will cherish forever and knowing we were part of this experience reinforces the reason we chose the career path we did and why we volunteer for this event!”
Participants have been the focus of the tournament since its inception, and this year’s staff was amazing in serving our student participants. Each day was filled with long bouts of action, and the National Soccer staff were driven to provide the most premier experience for the participants and patrons of the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex. Volunteer Sylvain Tchaptchet put it best when he said, “It’s hard to stay motivated when you have to work 14 hours a day for three days. However, the smiles you see on parents, friends, and especially the players make it all worth it.”
We came to play: Unified Division
New to the tournament this year was the inaugural Unified Division. The Unified Division is comprised of teams of athletes from Special Olympic programs as well as partners to compete alongside the athletes. The action is high octane and the sportsmanship is absolutely phenomenal. This year, three teams made their way to Round Rock to compete for the Unified Division title: Tampa Unified, Northern Illinois, and Hendrickson SOTX. While each team competed with sweat and liveliness, it was the sportsmanship that was really on display for the division. Each team became fast friends, and all teams were able to celebrate their participation with a team social at the end of Friday’s action. It was an amazing time, with teams enjoying each other’s company and putting the purpose of sport into perspective. It’s not about the wins and losses, it’s about respect for your opponent and love for the game.
In addition to the teams, the division also set a standard by using student officials for the first time ever at the NIRSA National Soccer Championship. Six officials were selected from an application process to work the Unified Division at the championship. These officials were monitored and mentored by the officiating staff and took advantage of the opportunity to learn and shape their talents and improve their abilities. The teams and officials both had very positive experiences, which has paved the way to continue this student official mentoring program within the tournament.
The Director of the Unified Division, Amanda Alpert, could not have been more delighted in what she saw during the tournament. “The addition of the Unified Division at the national soccer tournament not only provided Special Olympics athletes and student partners the opportunity to participate on the national level, but also for student referees to be integrated into the tournament for the first time,” Amanda says. “We were able to bring six student referees all from different NIRSA institutions together to learn from experienced NISOA referees, interact with Unified players, and see what NIRSA National Soccer is all about.”
Amanda was also very optimistic about what this division meant to not only NIRSA, but other entities such as college campuses. “In the future, we hope to add additional teams which could mean additional student referees as well,” she says. “We also hope to continue to expose more college students and NIRSA professionals to Unified Sports so that it may get started on more campuses.”
The results are in
During the three days of play, we saw energy expended, sportsmanship displayed, and increasing pressure to win and make it to the championship games. At the end of the tournament, five teams battled their way to the top and proved themselves the 2019 NIRSA National Champions for the year. Congratulations to the following teams for their meteoric rise and successful claim to their respective championships:
Women’s Championship Division: Ohio State University
Men’s Championship Division: Brigham Young University
Unified Division: Tampa Unified
Women’s Open Division: University of Oregon
Men’s Open Division: Purdue University
We’d like to thank the city of Round Rock, the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex, our volunteer staff, soccer officials, and teams for making this 26th year a premier experience. We could not have had this opportunity without all their support. We’re already looking forward to the 2020 NIRSA National Soccer Championships when we’ll head back to Foley, Alabama. We hope you’ll come kick it with us next November!
- For more information, please contact NIRSA National Sport Programs Coordinator Nicole Jackson.