Thousands of soccer players and fans descend on Sioux Falls this weekend. The city hosts a regional youth soccer tournament. Organizers say no other sporting event in Sioux Falls has a larger economic impact. This isn’t the first time the city welcomes soccer teams from the region. Sioux Falls prepares for the 2017 US Youth Soccer Region II Midwest Championships.
A parks department worker drags a small metal scraper along on wood sign. He scratches chipped paint from a letter. Then he loads a small paintbrush with bright white paint. He fills in the recessed letters until the words Yankton Trail pop on the brown wood marker.
The sign perches along a busy street near the entrance to 21 soccer fields. Mark Glissendorf says Yankton Trail is not what it used to be.
"At first glance, it looks like nothing has happened, but what you see is a tremendous result of a three-year effort that was very intentional and very intensive to bring this glorious park up to its full capacity as one of the finest natural grass complexes in the region and one of the few that can handle a large event like this all in one place," Glissendorf says.
Glissendorf co-chairs the US Youth Soccer Region 2 Midwest Championships, and preparations are underway. Bright red circles on the grass mark places for stakes as men unfurl large white tarps for a tent. Groundskeepers traverse the green to weed-eat and position trash bins and mow the grass to just the right height.
Glissendorf says the last-minute details refine work to eliminate compacted soil, improve irrigation, and level the playing field.
"Top-dressing and fertilizing and mowing, and you can see the brand new goals are all ready to go into position," Glissendorf says.
Parks employees wheel those white goals into place. The metal frames and white nets dot the park.
Tournament co-chair Rex Rolfing says the fields soon welcome 224 soccer teams from 14 states.
"If you multiply that out a little bit, that’s going to amount to about 4,900-5,000 athletes. Have a parent or two or brother and sister with them, we could easily hit 15,000 people, with referees and things, coming into Sioux Falls. It’s like moving Mitchell to Sioux Falls," Rolfing says. "Think about that. It’s like moving Mitchell to Sioux Falls for a long weekend."
"This particular event is going to create 14,000 hotel room nights. 14,000 – that’s remarkable," Teri Schmidt says.
Schmidt is the executive director of the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau. She says most teams stay in Sioux Falls, but some book up to 30 miles around the city to find space.
"You know, they stay in the hotels, yes. And they play soccer, yes. But they eat in the restaurants. They go shopping. If they have a little time off, they go enjoy another activity or attraction that Sioux Falls offers," Schmidt says. "So we’re talking about an approximate $17 million economic impact."
Schmidt says $10 million is direct impact; an example is visitors paying for hotel rooms. The other $7 million shows up as a ripple effect. Hotels host more clients, so they staff more people. Then those employees have more money to spend in the local economy.
Organizers say the championships offer ample time for teams to explore Sioux Falls. Each team plays one game Friday, one game Saturday, and one game Sunday.
That time on the field is crucial. The horizon separates crisp green land from a saturated blue sky scuffed with clouds. Teenagers smack the soccer ball with their feet. They run drills and practice sinking the ball into the goal.
"I wouldn’t underestimate South Dakota and Sioux Falls with regards to soccer," Frank Gurnick, coaching director for Dakota Alliance Soccer Club, says. "Sometimes we are relegated to ‘the sports other than football and basketball,’ but by all means South Dakota pulls its weight in the soccer world."
Dakota Alliance teams practice on fields feet from rows of corn. Gurnick says geography works against South Dakota teams, because athletes must travel long distances to compete. He says rivals have greater depth on their teams, because they have more dense populations. Gurnick says that’s a challenge, and his players and coaches are ready.
"South Dakota has only had one regional champion, and I’m happy to say that it was a team from Sioux Falls and it also happened while Sioux Falls was hosting the regional tournament," Gurnick says.
That happened in 2005; Gurnick wants to win again.
South Dakota soccer teams have serious competition. Tournament co-chair Mark Glissendorf says matches boast skilled players, especially the 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds on the field.
"You’ll see teams from states where not just the starting 11 have college commitments. You’ll see teams where all 18 players on the roster have a commitment to play DI and probably D2 soccer," Glissendorf says.
Before they move to college soccer, these athletes compete in Sioux Falls for a spot at the national tournament.
The 2017 US Youth Soccer Region II Midwest Championships are free for spectators who walk to the park. Anyone who drives to Yankton Trail needs to purchase a parking pass. View a digital program here.
The soccer competition begins Friday. Teams competing are ages 13-and-Under through 19/20-and-Under; browse match-ups online. Top performers this weekend get Monday off. Then they compete again Tuesday, and championship matches happen Wednesday.
Sioux Falls hosted the regional tournament three other times. This is the first year one location has enough fields to host all games.