SIKESTON -- From humble beginnings, the Sikeston Youth Soccer League (SYSL) has built the area's largest youth soccer tournament.
Starting with a 17-total team participation in 1995, the 11th annual Bootheel Classic Soccer Tournament has grown to 124 teams from Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee.
Sikeston's program alone fields 17 teams for the two-day event, which opens on Saturday and concludes on Sunday.
The tournament's economic impact on the Sikeston area is immense with an expected draw of 6,000 to 10,000 people, including 1,800 players, their family members and supporters, coming to town.
"Merchants tell us it's their second largest weekend of the year, trailing only the Thanksgiving weekend," said tournament director Phil Black.
Born through the foresight and urgings of Bill Bye and Bill Lawson, both Sikeston soccer coaches and game officials, the tournament has become a major source of funding for the SYSL.
Said Black, a former league president and current treasurer, "Largely, due to the tournament and other fundraising projects, the SYSL has been able to make improvements in excess of $100,000 to the Sikeston Sports Complex, including the light and irrigation systems, scoreboard, goals and concession stands. Most of that has come through donations and profits gained from the soccer tournament."
Entry fees, concession and T-shirt sales provide the bulk of tournament profits.
The tournament will be contested on 19 fields at the Sikeston Complex, Sikeston High School, Sikeston Junior High School, Matthews and Southeast Elementary Schools and the First Baptist Church.
Boys and girls teams split into age groups -- preschool/kindergarten, first/
second grade, third/fourth grade, fifth/sixth grade, seventh/eighth grade and high school -- and two competition levels, A (highest level) and B (smaller programs or second teams), compete, with each team guaranteed a minimum of three games.
Sikeston's youngest players, preschoolers and kindergartners who compete during the regular season in the SYSL Smurf Division, will be represented by three teams with a fourth from Farmington participating in a non-scoring scrimmage.
"(It) gives the younger kids a chance to get used to the experience, without being in a highly competitive situation," said Black, "and it lets parents have an opportunity to see what it's all about, too."
Competitors include Missouri teams from Sikeston, Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Perryville, Poplar Bluff, Kennett, Dexter, Fredericktown, Farmington, Mineral Area, Pacific, Park Hills, Senath and Ripley County (Doniphan area); Illinois squads from Marion, Union County, Carbondale, Edwards County, Cobden, Saline County and Harrisburg; and a Tennessee team from Covington.
Similar youth tournaments are held in Carbondale, last weekend, and Cape Girardeau on Nov. 12-13.
At the Carbondale Tournament, consisting of 90 teams, two Sikeston squads of the 12 entered -- the fourth-grade A boys team and the fifth/sixth-grade A girls team --won championships.
Those interested in tracking the action of the Bootheel Classic may log on to the SYSL website, www.sikestonsoccer.org, for scheduling information and periodic scoring updates.
Obviously, an undertaking of this magnitude requires a host of volunteers, 50 to 70 game officials and numerous others to pull it off.
"It takes a tremendous amount of cooperation from all the parents, coaches, officials, volunteers and soccer fans for this to be successful," added Black.