Youth Power 365’s Copa soccer tournament: 10 years, 740 participants and hundreds of other supporters | VailDaily.com

Youth Power 365’s Copa soccer tournament: 10 years, 740 participants and hundreds of other supporters

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EAGLE COUNTY — In 2008, a soccer practice took place at Freedom Park in Edwards with help from the Youth Foundation. A decade later, that practice has blossomed into an eight-week tournament with more than 700 kids participating.

The Youth Foundation, now known as YouthPower365, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving children and families throughout Eagle County.

The Youth Foundation's first indication that they could help the community through the sport of soccer came in 2006 when a parent from a church group organized a few soccer games on Sundays and asked the foundation for soccer balls.

"The pioneers were Porfirio Reyes and Ramon Lopez," said program manager Bratzo Horruitiner. "They began this project because children did not have much to do during the summer months, and many got into trouble due to the lack of positive options in which to invest their time."

“These youth have become strong leaders who are motivated, service driven and who embody the mission and values of YouthPower365.”Bratzo HorruitinerProgram manager

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By 2011, they had a full on soccer league underway, with sponsors, licensed coaches and classes sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation. They named it Copa as an homage to the famous Copa America tournament.

"Copa is managed by former YouthPower365 program participants who understand the community and its needs better than anyone," Horruitiner said. "Copa and YouthPower365 empower our community's youth not just through our programming, but by providing employment and professional development opportunities for them, as well. These youth have become strong leaders who are motivated, service driven and who embody the mission and values of YouthPower365."

Another early supporter was the Edwards Rotary Club.

"Fraser Horn has always very committed to our program, as have his fellow Rotarians," Horruitiner said.

AFFORDABLE FOR FAMILIES

Sam Koontz, of Edwards, has been participating in the local Copa tournament since he was 8 years old.

"I remember my first year the most," Koontz said. "We won the whole thing."

Now 14, Koontz was forced to watch Sunday's games from the sidelines as he suffered a broken thumb playing in the Copa tournament on Sunday, July 29.

"It's killing him not to be able to play," said his father, Teek Koontz.

Sam's brother, 12-year-old Owen Koontz, also plays in the Copa tournament. The family participates in several soccer leagues; Teek Koontz said the Copa tournament is by far the most affordable for local families.

In contrast to other sports and activities, "Paying 39 bucks for this is nothing," Teek Koontz said of the Copa tournament.

In the six years the Koontz's have been involved in Copa tournament, the level of play has increased dramatically, Teek Koontz said.

"Every year it gets bigger and bigger," he said.

WECMRD DONATING FIELDS

In typical sporting fashion, local rivalries have begun to form among regional teams. Garfield County teams have also joined the league and it's typical to see teams from Glenwood Springs square off against teams from Edwards and Vail.

Humberto Bello coaches a team from Glenwood Springs; his wife Gaby and their sun Shai have been coming out to Eagle to participate in Copa every Sunday during the summer for the last several years. Before the tournament moved to the Eagle County Fairgrounds Sports Complex, they would drive from Glenwood Springs to Edwards to participate.

"We started with just us bringing our son, and now this year there's two more teams coming from Glenwood," Gaby Bello said on Sunday.

Shai Bello, 12, said the play is quite competitive at the Copa tournament.

"It's challenging for me, so it makes me better," he said.

Humberto Bello said as the tournament comes to a close with finals on Sunday, August 12, the players will be at their best heading into the school year.

"The level is high, really high," Humberto Bello said. "They have a lot of really good players."

The timing on the Copa tournament is ideal, Teek Koontz said.

"When one league ends, this one starts," he said.

In addition to the many parents and players who attend the Eagle County Fairgrounds Sports Complex every Sunday, the Copa tournament also attracts 58 volunteer coaches, 27 community coaches and a team of referees and administrators.

"Mike Staten with WECMRD, has been a crucial and invaluable partner for Copa for many years," Horruitiner said. "For our 10-year anniversary, they have allowed us to utilize the fields at no cost … It's great because we all work together for the kids."