Mark Squibb / July 28, 2023
Some 2,000 soccer players, 500 coaches and team managers, and untold numbers of family members and friends will descend upon Paradise this weekend for the Paradise Soccer Club’s (PSC) 2023 Sunsplash Tournament
Games began last night, and all-told 268 games will be played over the four-day tournament. Most of the games will be played at either the Dianne Whalen Memorial Soccer Complex or Peter Barry Duff Memorial Park, but the club will also utilize the Gushue Turf and Central Field in Mount Pearl for games.
PSC Chairman Paul North said that on Friday and Saturday there will be as many as 10 games being played at any given time.
All told, 116 teams have registered for the tournament, breaking last year’s record of 93 teams.
“It seems like we keep breaking our record every year,” said North. “We keep thinking, ‘We’re at our maximum now,’ but somehow we keep managing to get more teams here.”
North said that increase gels with what he has seen at the club level in recent years.
“We’re seeing significant year-over-year growth in Paradise within our house league and All-Star program,” he said. “We’re probably in the 1,600 range in Paradise alone.”
North credits the success of soccer at a national level as one of the factors behind the recent soccer boom locally.
“The Women’s World Cup is on right now, and Canada is one of the top countries in the world,” said North. “Our men played for the World Cup in 2022 for the first time since 1986. You’re seeing more soccer on TV now. Major League Soccer (MLS) now has teams based in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto. And a lot of people from Newfoundland travel to the States, Florida in particular, and you get to see Miami and Orlando teams. So, more and more people are exposed to the game, and I think all that has led to more youth playing the game today.”
And while folks have planned and youth have practised, the games couldn’t go ahead without a small army of volunteer referees — about 80 of them, to be exact.
North said that as refereeing can be an intimidating role to fill, retaining refs can be difficult in any sport.
That’s why a few years back the club, in coordination with the provincial body, the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association (NLSA), began to run a referee mentorship program to coincide with the Sunsplash Tournament.
“We have 12 senior referees being brought in this weekend to work with the young referees and give them feedback as to what they’re doing well and what they need to improve on, and just to help and support these young officials,” said North. “It’s something you don’t see in other tournaments held here. So, we’re really proud in Paradise that we’ve got this program. We’ve developing soccer players but also, through Sunplash, we’re developing referees for the long-term development of the game.”
Planning for the annual tournament begins within a month of the end of the previous year’s tournament.
“It’s a big tournament, and it’s becoming bigger every year,” said North.
New this year, Paradise Soccer has been able to avail of a new artificial-turf field at the Dianne Whalen Soccer Memorial Soccer Complex, which, along with the other two fields at the complex, will be one of the main playing fields used during the tournament.
The Town paid some $2 million out of pocket for the field, which opened last fall.
North says it’s proved to be a great asset.
“We’re able to open our season much earlier now,” said North. “Grass fields in Newfoundland are traditionally not ready until June, so we’re now able to get on the turf in April, which is a huge cost savings for the club, because we’re typically still training indoors at that time. We also don’t face as many weather constraints because the grass fields close when we get rain. Obviously, June was a challenging month weather wise, but because of the artificial turf we were still able to move on and train and grow the club. So, the turf has been a huge benefit and a great asset.”