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State soccer tournament

Missoula Hellgate's Sam Carnes (9) looks to score over Bozeman's Jovial Milich in the second half of Hellgate's 3-1 win over Bozeman at Fort Missoula in October 2017. 

The first known organized soccer game to be played in Missoula occurred in the most unlikely of times and places — during World War II among the Italian prisoners confined at the Fort Missoula internment camp. Despite the grim circumstances, it was a game that fostered goodwill, the spirit of cooperation and sportsmanship, and reached across cultural barriers and transcended personal challenges. The Italian internees called their temporary, mountain-ringed home Bella Vista — “Beautiful View.”

In 1995, 50 years after this historic game, Missoulians took the far-sighted step of committing to preserve the open spaces around Fort Missoula, passing Missoula’s first open space bond. It allowed for the purchase of lands adjacent to the fort that were under pressure for development and committed to create playing fields on them. The first phase of the development of the Fort Missoula Regional Park (FMRP) was opened last year and the second phase will open this summer.

In addition to its extensive everyday use, FMRP has hosted several major tournaments since its opening in which Missoula can take pride — the Missoula Maggots annual Maggotfest, youth lacrosse tournaments, state high school soccer championships, the Refugee Soccer Tournament and another major new event, Missoula Strikers Soccer Club’s Intermountain Champions Cup.

On a sparkling June weekend last year at the stunning Fort Missoula complex, the Strikers tournament hosted 65 youth soccer teams, ages 11 to 19, from as far away as Seattle and Calgary, drawing an estimated 2,000 out-of-town visitors.

This year, Missoula Soccer Week (June 21-29) will feature the Champions Cup tournament itself, an Elite Soccer Camp and an Intermountain College Identification (ID) Camp. It allows our youth to learn, compete and try out with some of the best players and coaches the Northwest can offer, with an eye toward improved training and college recruitment. This is all possible because of Missoula’s investment in the FMRP, a community effort demonstrating our potential to elevate our youth and raise their expectations of what they can achieve.

FMRP also has the potential to bring in millions of dollars annually to Missoula. To realize the complex’s full potential and return on taxpayers’ investment, non-profit sporting organizations such as Missoula Strikers, Missoula Mustangs Lacrosse Club, Missoula Softball Association, and Destination Missoula are partnering with Missoula Parks and Recreation to fill FMRP weekends with events and visitors. Parks and Rec must help maximize the use of the facility and ensure it is maintained to withstand the high use. This requires true partnerships and cooperation between Parks and Rec and local community organizations.

Some voters enthusiastically supported the public bonds that made this complex possible, others skeptically or not at all. But to all residents of Missoula County, we want to express our deepest gratitude. It’s you who have made it possible to carry on the spirit of the goodwill, cooperation and sportsmanship for many years to come. Come out and watch a game, go for a walk or run your dog, or volunteer to join us June 22-24 in putting on this year’s Intermountain Champion’s Cup Soccer tournament. We think you will be pleased with what your vision and support has created.

At the conclusion of last year’s tournament, a visiting coach asked his team to stop as they were walking off the field after their final game. He told the boys to turn around and take in the beautiful views surrounding them. As the young boys gazed about, you can hear the soft whisper of long-ago Italian internees saying “Bella Vista, un posto meraviglioso in cui giocare” — “Beautiful View, a wonderful place to play.”

Charlie Vandam is a longtime Missoula soccer player, soccer parent and director of the Intermountain Champions Cup. Peter Stark, also a soccer parent and player, is a Missoula author.

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