For adults who support the development of soccer players in Alaska, there is nothing better than watching kids achieve their goals. The coaches, family members and fans that encourage these kids play a vital role in the development of the sport. Without them, there would be no teams, no excitement and no motivation to play.
But behind all that support are former child players themselves, who still love the game and crave the competition. Mike Naylor, who coaches boys’ soccer at Service High School, is one such player. He will be back again this year to defend his team’s title in the new adult league that competed last year.
“It does have a bit of a nostalgia factor,” said Naylor, who grew up in Anchorage and organizes teams for competition both at the tournament and throughout the year. He remembers when the tournament was still called the Ina K Memorial – “Some of us still call it the Ina K,” he joked.
No matter the name, the tournament remains one of his favorite competitions, Naylor said.
“I think the tournament is going to be a lot more looked at after last year’s event, and it will be a really good kicking-off point for the summer,” he said. “And I have a really good feeling about the weather.”
The Alaska Airlines Cup men’s adult division attracted four teams last year, and Naylor said he thinks it will draw a minimum of six this year. With the early-summer timing, and a picturesque venue, it’s a great attraction for players wanting to test their mettle.
“Obviously winning it last year was fantastic, and the Kincaid area really is phenomenal,” he said. “There really isn’t anything like it.”
Dan Rufner, event director of Alaska Rush, said he hopes the tournament attracts players who still want to be competitive, yet have outgrown the children’s’ brackets.
“The decision to do this was made because the adult soccer community is huge,” Rufner said. “Currently, many of these players compete in the Adult State Cup, but nothing else.”
Right now there is just one men’s division scheduled – last year there were no women’s teams, although the division was offered.
No matter who shows up, Naylor said he will haul himself out there and give it his all – even if he’s not as young as he used to be.
“We’re going to go out there and play like we’re 16 and deal with the knocks afterwards,” he said. “It is just what we do.”