sand soccer tournament at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As the title suggests, this is an article about the timeline, challenges, and craziness of the first tournament in Northern California allowed after the June 15th Re-Opening.  To put it in simple terms there was no true understanding of anything. Our staff didn’t even know what would be allowed until June 1st.  That was just 10 days before our deadline.  What happened before and after really comes down to the fact we did in two weeks what we usually do in 3 months.

Easter Week, the week of April 6th

We have our first conversation in quite some time with the city of Santa Cruz.  The head of events lets us know they are going to support an event in Santa Cruz but what it will look like is impossible to envision.  The state just made the announcement June 15th was the target for reopening if California if it could meet the guidelines.  At the time, we were counting the days waiting to move to the next tier and hoping for the best.

Our situation for the next month did not change much.  We were operating with the idea things would change.  At the time, we were going to be allowed 200 participants total.  Everyone would wear masks, get temperature checks, checking vaccination cards and identifying them with a wrist band for local authorities, and a number of other guidelines to make it happen.  A true challenge on top of what is already the most difficult event we operate.

Memorial Day Weekend, May 28th Proclamation

We spent the long weekend basically sitting and waiting to hear the latest allowance.  It seemed we were going to be good to go, but what did this look like.  On June 2nd we were told we were open for a full fledged event and the excitement really began.  At the time, we had 38 teams without any real marketing done.  This was 10 days before the late deadline a week before the event.  We usually put two weeks to deal with the ghosts, drop-offs, and missing/broken groups.  Even with two weeks it’s always a challenging moment.

At the moment, we were told we would need to operate as a Mega Event.  This meant temperature checks BOTH days, masks when not playing, identifying those vaccinated with separate wrist band, social distancing enforced, and a variety of other obstacles. It was a tall order, but we prepared for that and informed all the participants of what to expect.

June 11th Deadline

Registrations jumped from 38 teams, ten days prior, to 109 teams.  We were in shock, but not really, by the action of those who follow us, and found our one-week sprint in advertising a success.  The event gained 71 registrations in 10 days.  So, now that registration was closed we had groups of 2, 3, 7, 9 which mostly do not work.  We of course wanted to have everyone play age pure, so now the next push…which we usually have 2 weeks.  We now had six days.

A perceived mistake made by me was planning a site visit to San Antonio & South Padre Island the day after the deadline.  The thought was I would have plenty of time to work the work while there.  The actual mistake was not realizing how far San Antonio and South Padre were for driving.  The 4.5 hours down and another back made for a total day lost due to my motion sickness working/reading in the car.  My brother was kind enough to do the driving, but my stomach not up for the challenge.

June 15th Return to California

I had planned to finish schedule on the flight back on Tuesday.  Many of the groups were still unknown, so multiples scenarios were created for groups we were not sure.  They would shift in the days to come.  Whereas we had 109 at deadline, now three days before the Friday setup we were down to 96 teams.

Honestly, all our staff was in awe at those who ghosted.  We call ghosts those whom we have an email, phone number, and have the ability to text, call, and email, but refuse to answer our requests for confirmation either in or out.  You would think if they don’t answer then they are out.  But, surprisingly, many times we don’t know why they have not and end up last minute saying “sorry” we were always in and we will pay immediately.

June 17th Day of U-Haul Packing and Travel to Santa Cruz

Wednesday before, we picked up a half dozen teams, and reached 102 again making all the groups but Micro complete.  We were happy to have the schedule done…so we thought.  But, now the focus changed from schedule to the “Run of Show” operations and race to Sunday afternoon.

We packed the U-Haul with all we had in storage.  This was an exercise; literally, we had not done since December 2019.  The process was slower than usual for a variety of reasons, but mostly because no one but me had done this before.  Did I mention our crew was very green?  On top of that, we had a few scares as brown recluse spiders were found in the equipment twice scary the crap out of me.  That was a first of many “firsts” to take place throughout the weekend.

Finally, the U-Haul was packed and heading south to Santa Cruz things were now in motion.  We arrived in Santa Cruz late in the afternoon not quite beating the Highway 17 rush hour traffic.  It was a slow tiring crawl over the mountain.  But, we finally settled down at the Aqua Breeze Inn and started to print everything we needed for the following days.

As we worked into the night the unwanted messages arrived.  Suddenly teams we worked hard for to include fell off.  This happened a few times over the next 24 hours.  The latest was a team suddenly had a Covid19 scare. They pulled their team Friday night leaving us with a group of 3.  Now, it may sound straight forward, but the message we received was pretty cryptic and didn’t really say 100% whether in or out.  This team wins ghost winner of the event as we had 2 phone numbers and 3 emails and never got full confirmation with multiples to each in text, calls, and emails.  Only Saturday when they didn’t check in we knew for sure the group shrank to three.

June 18th: 6am Setup & Early Check-in

For 17 years we have done setup early Friday morning to avoid the possible heat.  Leading up to this event there was a tremendous heat wave in California.  Luckily it subsided partially on this Friday, but it was still very hot by 10am.  In the past, I was always disappointed when we could not get off the beach before 12pm.  Our record was starting at 7am and being done by 10am a few years ago.  This time was different.

First, the organization which has supported us in setup, Si Se Puede, was unable to help this year due to Covid19 restrictions which could not allow their people to leave the property.  In addition, the city was short staffed, so there was no vehicle to move goals, equipment, etc, down the beach.  This meant we had to carry 13 fields and goals the length of the beach.  Luckily we had a fairy godfather who lightened our load otherwise what took us the time it did would have been even longer.

We entered the beach at 6am and we left the beach at 4pm.  We crushed the previous record for slowness by 3.5 hours.  12.30pm was the latest before this day.  That said, I was not upset as I would have been in the past.  Usually we are rushing to beat the heat.  First thing in the morning I knew there was no way we would beat the heat.  We just paced ourselves as best as we could and didn’t worry how long it took.  My fear was killing my staff before the event even started.

Early Check-in started at 3:00pm.  We lost some people at about 2:30pm to get set up.  The rest of us arrived there about 4:45pm.  At this time, I was back at the schedule dealing with the changes which you never want to take place less than 24 hours before the event.  Because inevitably, someone doesn’t check the revised schedule which then causes more obstacles and challenges for the staff.

Saturday June 19th – Check-in & First Games

Just two days previous to this day we found out we no longer had to mask or most other conditions. We were no longer deemed a Mega Event.  This said, we were on the beach at 5am, earlier than ever, and everyone on the crew worked well.  We had some volunteers from the participants and a few who came out from the local community to assist in our “Social Distancing” check-in process.

Whereas there are countless positives which came out of this event the biggest was our process where we created Check-in Zones.  We dealt with only managers at the check-in desk and then someone on staff would accompany them to a zone where their team waited away from the tables to be banded for the weekend.  This made things move so much faster than usual it is hard to quantify.  Also, a big thank you for all those teams which worked tirelessly to get through the process of being paperless. It made check-in the best we have ever had in 17 years.

The rest of the day was trying to keep up with changes in the schedule as we continued to deal with new surprises.  You may wonder, why so many problems with the schedule, should you not have had this figured out already?  Yeah, sure, but again, increase of 71 teams in ten days, lost 10 teams, add 6 teams, lose a few more, add a few more…get the picture?  We did not have the luxury of two weeks to deal with the ghosts and broken brackets, so the mayhem didn’t really end until Saturday afternoon.

Sunday June 20th – Final First Round Games & Run to the Finals

A special thanks to our Referee coordinator Colin Arblaster and his whole crew.   We are proud of our referee’s and the level of education they have reached in beach soccer.  We know we have the best beach soccer referee’s in the country because not only have we strived together to achieve this, but they are the only ones who do their job with 100% FIFA laws.

Mr. Arblaster specifically was going through the schedule changes with us working tirelessly to make sure all games were covered.  Granted some out there will not like decisions they made, but that is the nature of the beast.  I tell this crew each time, our participants will have the best experience sometimes all year in their soccer until you screw up a call and ruin the whole event for them.  They know this, and they actually take it to heart and try not screwing up.  But, of course, it happens, and sometime you think it happens and it never did…the essence of transferring of blame.

In any case, we had some interesting things take place.  Twice, for the first time in years, we had teams accused of fielding illegal players.  When this has happened we take the roster to the field, ask for the player passes, or other identity checks used for check-in, and quiz the kids without interference from coaches, parents or otherwise.

The Biggest Drama’s, there are always a few…

In one situation, a team refused to play and shamed the opposing coach for trying to cheat.  The other situation only arose later after the event when a parent wrote to us with a similar complaint.  Both times they were wrong.

Both times it was because kids were wearing two wrist bands.  In the first situation, the manager called me with the accusation.  We looked it up the and knew exactly which team it was and the situation.  The coach had kids drop off his older team days before the event and contacted us about the protocols for kids playing up.  I told her this, not once, but in three separate conversations. But still she insisted they were cheating.  Over the phone she said she understood, but then got off the phone, and pushed her parents into a false frenzy.

They abandoned the game and took the forfeit.  That night, as well with the parent days later, I explained it plainly in an email to all.  Our check-in process is more detailed than any grass event to avoid these accusations.  We check photo ID, birth date, against the roster, and with the waivers.  It’s a triple or quadruple check in some cases.  A coach must literally falsify records to such an extreme it makes it not worth it…for much of anything, but especially for a beach soccer trophy.

Even then, if it is about qualifying for nationals, they would have to do it all over again with yet another layer when we get there.  In the end, those who lose out are the kids. They were given the idea they were cheated.  More importantly, the opportunity was taken away to play the game.

Final Analysis Sunday Afternoon

That said, the event overall was a fantastic success for almost everyone. The event was short staffed which made everything a challenge.  It made our workers have to go twice as hard and they really raised themselves to the occasion.  I am grateful to all those who worked, supported, volunteered, and participated in this year’s historic event.

We were the first tournament to take place in Northern California since the pandemic shut everything down.  We are very proud of the standard we were able to provide with a short staffed and very green crew and all of the challenges the schedule created.  They made up for it in their patience, hard work, and putting up with tremendous amounts of drama, which is normal for an event like this, but in an extreme situation.

We look forward to moving into the next phase of producing these events with much more fluidity and ease as green is no longer and Santa Cruz as a whole is a very difficult event to operate.  For me personally, it will definitely remain in the top three all time of all events for difficulties.  But, to have done it and survived and to have so many compliments is priceless.  Again, what we did in 2.5 weeks we usually spent nearly 3 months to accomplish.

We congratulate the 38 Finalist who qualified for nationals and the 19 Champions of the first tournament post Covid19 in Northern California.  We are so happy to have had you as our first event, where it all started for us 17 years ago.  Kudos to everyone who had the chance to participate!

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