Traffic is backed up on Glenn and Craycroft.
Thousands of young soccer players, many from Tucson but some from different cities, states or even countries, spill out of their parents’ vehicles and stream into Fort Lowell Park, teammates and family members in tow.
The smell of food trucks and freshly cut grass is inescapable; banners, flags, face paint, crazy hats are everywhere; soccer balls are flying each and every direction.
All of this can only mean one thing — the Tucson Association of Realtors Shootout is back for another year.
Friday night’s festivities kicked off the 24th consecutive year for the one-of-a-kind youth soccer tournament, with hundreds of games scheduled today and Sunday at 12 parks across Tucson.
More than 300 teams, ranging from the Under-8 to Under-14 age groups, lined up for Friday’s parade of athletes, which included awards for things like best banner and best hair. After the parade, players participated in their designated “Soccer Olympics” event — accuracy shooting, dribbling, juggling, or the penalty shootout competition.
“There are no other tournaments in the country that do what we do on Friday nights,” said tournament director Diana Cannon. “Teams from New Mexico and Texas keep coming back year after year because of the quality of the tournament, and it’s great to see all the support coming from across the youth soccer community.”
The Shootout, which features about 340 teams and 5,000 athletes this year, is organized by Fort Lowell Soccer Club with the help of Tucson Association of Realtors, the tournament’s title sponsor, as well as dozens of other corporate sponsors and volunteers. Proceeds often benefit the community at large, such as Tucson’s newest lighted soccer fields at Doolen Middle School, which opened in September, a collaborative effort led by the soccer club, the city and Tucson Unified School District.
“The project at Doolen was the second time we’ve been able to do something like this,” said Cannon. “(In 2001) we put in lighted fields at Townsend Middle School, in part because of this event.”
Townsend and Fort Lowell host games, along with these parks: Brandi Fenton, Freedom, Golf Links, Himmel, Kino, Jacobs, Lincoln, Ochoa, Quincy Douglas/Silverlake and Udall.
Youth soccer in the U.S. has changed a lot since the inaugural Shootout in 1991 — the amount of time, travel and effort for players and parents has increased. But while the names and faces may be different, the Shootout has not changed much — the games today and Sunday are sure to be hard-fought, and Friday night’s family-friendly chaos at Fort Lowell continues to be entertaining.
“The kids just love it, and it’s all about them having fun,” said Cannon. “Why mess with a good thing?”