Resilient Isenberg Students Salvage SoccerFest Tournament
June 09, 2014
On a raw, rainy day in late April, twenty-five Isenberg student organizers of Supercuts SoccerFest exhibited uncommon leadership and resilience when weather-related challenges threatened their painstakingly planned tournament and festival. Now in its 12th year, Supercuts SoccerFest, held on fields adjacent to McGuirk stadium, is the largest grassroots tournament in Western Massachusetts. The event also features the Fun Zone-a midway with game booths, inflatable obstacle courses, and other attractions. And it boasts support from some two dozen sponsors. Under last year's sunny skies, SoccerFest attracted 3,500 visitors.
SoccerFest's management team, mostly students in Isenberg's Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management had begun planning for the event back in September. The academic touchstone for SoccerFest is Sport Event Management, a two-semester course taught by Dr. Mark McDonald, an associate professor in McCormack and faculty adviser to the event. Drawing on McDonald's twenty years in that role and the best practices of previous SoccerFest organizers, the current students were confident in their planning and execution.
Stormy Weather. "But our collective SoccerFest experience was based on eight straight years of good weather," remarked McDonald. As the date approached, unseasonably chilly weather persisted and rain seemed imminent. "We had put in months preparing for SoccerFest," recalled Kelsey Koswick '14, who spent January through April securing sponsorships from Supercuts, AT&T, Dunkin Donuts, Puma, and WEEI radio, and a host of other supporters. (The class deployed students on additional teams devoted to marketing, tournament operations, registration and hospitality, management of volunteers, and finance.)
"With all that preparation, it was frustrating to confront factors beyond our control," continued Koswick, who went to work in sales for the Red Sox after graduation. "Fortunately, Professor McDonald was a steadying influence: Control the things that you can control! he reminded us." One such factor was the mini-Fenway Park wall displaying the logos of the event's sponsors. Fearful that it might topple in the wind, the students moved quickly to reconfigure their version of the Green Monster into a safer, shorter structure.
Accentuate the Positive. "Professor McDonald also emphasized that we had to be positive," she continued. Do not let the sponsors know that you're upset. Don't even let them speculate, he said." Taking that advice to heart, the student organizers conveyed that same positive attitude with the players, visitors, and student volunteers. "Ninety percent of our 135 student volunteers showed up. In spite of the weather, we were able to energize them by example," noted Dan Carroll '14.
An hour before SoccerFest's 8 a.m. start time, the students, over the drone of steady rain, heard an explosion and saw a flash of light in the distance. It was an electrical fire that knocked out the power to their FunZone, food areas, PA system, and sound stage, where bands were scheduled to perform throughout the day. Improvising, they contacted UMass Amherst's physical plant, which succeeded in installing and activating portable generators on the fields by 10 a.m. Meanwhile, the tournament itself got under way, although a bit behind schedule-not due to the power outage, but because the required number of trainers showed up late.
Throughout the day, the rain attacked score sheets, log books, and other paperwork. "You can't laminate everything," shrugged Dan Carroll '14, reminiscing on the event. The customary practice of timing the games with stop watches also lost much of its appeal, he added.
"The FunZone took a hit, but nearly all the soccer players showed up," recalled Bobby O'Brien '15, a dual Sport Management/Marketing major. According to Michelle Tracy '14 of SoccerFest's marketing team, that turnout was sizeable-800 players and 93 teams. The event also succeeded, she added, in expanding awareness and support for SoccerFest's charity partners, the Northampton Exercise Club for the Homeless and You Can Play, which combats homophobia in sports.
In spite of slick playing areas with various degrees of mud, the games progressed. (A Dunkin' Donuts concession truck wasn't so lucky, spending most of the day stuck in the mud before being excavated by a local towing service.) "Ironically, our trainers and medical personnel reported fewer injuries than in previous years," noted McDonald. "Perhaps the teams were playing with less abandon on those slick soggy fields." In the end, the students learned valuable lessons about event management: prepare as best you can but be ready to improvise as well. And, remarked Bobby O'Brien, "Remember that you can only control what you can control."