22nd annual CUFA tournament features 175 teams on Lake Tahoe South Shore | TahoeDailyTribune.com

22nd annual CUFA tournament features 175 teams on Lake Tahoe South Shore

Kids celebrate at a previous CUFA tournament.
Provided / Nicholas Arbelaez

Everywhere you look this weekend on the South Shore, you’re likely to see kids walking around town and in restaurants wearing soccer jerseys.

They won’t be wearing their favorite player’s jersey or representing their respective countries in the world’s biggest sporting event, the World Cup that started Thursday in Russia. They’ll be playing for their own teams in South Lake Tahoe’s miniature World Cup.

The soccer buzz will be especially high around town Saturday and Sunday for the 22nd annual CUFA (Come Up For Air) tournament.

At least 8,000 kids ages 8 to 19 will journey to South Lake Tahoe for the event that features games on every field available. Teams from all over California, Nevada and as far away as Idaho will be here to participate.

“If there’s a patch of grass anywhere, we’re likely on it,” said South Tahoe Futbol Club’s Director of Coaching and event co-director Nicholas Arbelaez.

The Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Authority crunched some numbers using the conservative figure of 8,000 and said its safe to say CUFA brings about $1.2 million of economic impact to the region.

Mark Salmon, STFC’s vice president and co-director of the tournament along with club president Brian Hogan, says it’s bigger than that. He thinks there are about 14,000 people attached to the event. That would make the impact in the $2 million range.

Salmon would know the numbers, he took over the event in 2010 and in his first year doubled the size of tournament from 50 to 100 teams by using online registration rather than “snail mail.”

This year, the tournament features 175 teams spread across 18 fields, with the hub being Lake Tahoe Community College where several tents have been erected to sell merchandise and food, among other things.

The teams were limited slightly this year after having over 180 the year before due to the field at George Whittell High School not yet being ready to use. The new bleachers are yet to be finished while the grassy field looks primed and ready.

But when all the fields are completed by next year, Salmon said they are hoping for over 200 teams to be here.

“It’s insane here in town,” Salmon said. “Some businesses have told me it’s just as busy as the Fourth of July. This is a big weekend for us.”

Salmon and Hogan started STFC about seven years ago and had three teams. In the seven years there has been “exponential” growth. The club now boasts 18 teams in the basin, which has grown from 11 just three years ago. And it’s still growing.

Salmon said the key for STFC’s success was building a strong foundation that included establishing two paid full-time positions, Arbelaez and Brandon Garinger, director of technology.

“Soccer in general has been absolutely amazing with the way kids are training, our participation is through the roof,” said Arbelaez, who has seen massive growth in the sport in his three years he’s been on the South Shore. “Our technology director Brandon (Garinger) has us on the same page. I can’t give enough credit to Brian Hogan and Mark Salmon, they’ve been the catalyst and pioneers in this town for over 20 years. For them to give us an opportunity to run with it and show what we can do for all the kids in our club is pretty special. There is a nice buzz within the club right now.”

Aside from CUFA — which is a play on words, come up here for some clean air, but good luck breathing because there’s not much of it — STFC also hosts a Fall Classic that draws about 150 to 160 teams. Salmon, who serves as the South Tahoe varsity girls head coach, also is hosting a preseason tournament at the end of August in which 40 or so high school teams will come to the basin for the two-day event.

STFC pays to help maintain facilities, equipment, renting indoor and outdoor space and insurance among other things through the proceeds from its tournaments. Barton Memorial Hospital this year has partnered to become a uniform sponsor.

“Anybody who lives in a community should be a part of that community,” Salmon said. “For me, it was soccer and recognizing the people it brings to town.”

STFC will hold free tryouts next week, Wednesday and Thursday at LTCC and South Tahoe Middle School for boys and girls ages 8-18. And the club is different from most others as they charge just $50 for the year to be a member.

“We make it affordable,” said Arbelaez, who sees the club having more events, winning state championships and developing an academy program in the future. “Our tournaments pay for our kids and most events and we’ve put money back into getting kids equipment. It’s really cool to see it flourish. You can see our competition level is getting very high and people are starting to take notice. It’s so cool to be a part of.”

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