The teeth-rattling hits against the bleachers, unpredictable passes off the wall and even nasty floor burns are gone, but the spirit of the Holiday Cup Soccer Tournament lives on this weekend in the much softer - and safer - confines of the Dimond Park Field House.
Organizers expect upward of 30 teams, with roughly 10 players per roster, to run back into competitive shape or even play the first organized matches of their lives in the 16th annual event starting Saturday and running until Dec. 31.
"It's always such a good feeling when you enter the (Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School) gym in previous years and - whatever the game or whatever the time - you feel the warmth of what Juneau's all about," Dimond Park Field House supervisor Jeremy Gleason said. "It's something that's always hard to match in any other community, I think. We have so many unique qualities here, and the Holiday Cup is a great representation of that."
Age groups ranging from the lowest of elementary grades to the 18-and-over divisions will be represented in the cost-free event this season.
Past tournaments have been split between the Dzantik'i Heeni and Floyd Dryden Middle School gyms, but Gleason believes that the switch to the field house will be much more safe for the players and more hospitable to the usual massive crowds.
"There's two inches of fake grass with rubber fill below that and gravel below that," Gleason said. "I've played on other fake grass fields before that were on top of cement, and this is definitely the safest for the players."
The Holiday Cup was created 16 years ago to add to the holiday energy and to provide an opportunity for former players coming back from college as well as younger house-bound kids to gather with family and friends, Gleason said.
"It ended up turning into just a really good community event where all kids could participate for free," he added. "It's a fun opportunity for a lot of kids who don't participate on competitive teams to play in a holiday tournament."
Gleason's best memory from the tournament came when he and a team of JDHS soccer players squared off against a squad of recreational players and football players.
"The football players ended up winning, and I still hear about that when I see them these days," he said. "Of course, without the walls to bounce the ball off and check people into, the games will be more about skill now."
Referees for this year's games will be volunteers from around the community.
Fans attending games in the heated field house will also have the opportunity to buy Holiday Cup sweatshirts from both JDHS soccer teams. Concessions will also be available.
Schedules and more information about the tournament can be found at www.juneauholidaycup.com.
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