It isn't often in Juneau that an offsides call in soccer can be considered an "international incident."
Last weekend, girls indoor soccer teams from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, joined teams from Juneau and Ketchikan here in the Capital City for three days of games in the annual Whitehorse Exchange tournament.
While the tournament is based on the idea of an international exchange, it's really all about breaking down boundaries. Some Juneau players jumped over to play for Yukon teams; many Whitehorse players stayed in the homes of Juneau players; and a Saturday potluck brought together all the teams to renew old friendships and make new ones.
Jodie MacMillan of Whitehorse played goalkeeper for the first-place Yukon Northern Flames U17 girls team and stayed with a Juneau family. She said she enjoyed getting the chance to sightsee with her host family, and liked seeing the ocean most of all.
"You get to meet new people, and they take you to places you've never been," she said.
And while the girls were experiencing the camaraderie here in Juneau, boys teams from both cities were playing up in Whitehorse. Next year, they'll swap cities.
On the floor, the teams from Juneau, Whitehorse and - for the first time this year - Ketchikan have developed good rivalries since the tournament began in 1989.
"It's even competition," said Yukon Northern Flames U17 girls coach Linda Ehrlich. "It goes back and forth every year."
And that even competition is finding its balance at an ever-increasing level.
"It's a very high level of play," said Jamie Waste, coach of the U15 Juneau Titans girls team, which jumped up to play in the U17 division this tournament and still performed well. "These exchanges between communities have really helped advance the level of competitive soccer in Juneau."
That's something the players felt first-hand this weekend.
"It was competitive, tough," said Kaia Rongstad, who plays with the Titans. "I got lots of floor burns."
The tourney marks the end of the indoor soccer season in Juneau, and teams will now look toward a spring and summer full of outdoor matches. But those involved in the Whitehorse Exchange will carry good memories and look forward to next year's tourney.
"You get these friendships between communities," Waste said. "We love going up there, and they love coming down here. If it weren't for finances, we'd do it much more often."
Tournament results will run later this week in the Empire sports section.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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