For the past 10 years, Juneau's holiday traditions have included festive lights, cookies at the Governor's House - and a competitive, but very friendly indoor soccer tournament.
The Holiday Cup tourney, which is expected to include 26 teams with about 300 kids ages 9-21 this year, has reached the decade mark and is still going strong. This year's tournament, the largest soccer tourney in Juneau, will begin Dec. 21 at Floyd Dryden and Dzantik'i Heeni middle schools, and continues through Dec. 31.
"It's become a tradition during the holidays for the soccer community," organizer Leslie Houston said. "It's something kids look forward to."
Houston has helped out with the tournament for six years, along with Paul Dillon, who has been with the Holiday Cup since it began. The law firm of Dillon and Findley has sponsored the event since its inception.
"Its purpose has been to develop the younger soccer players and introduce them to a competitive soccer environment," Houston said. For older kids, she said, the Holiday Cup "provides a lot of activity and social time" over the holiday break.
One unique aspect of the tournament, which is split into four age divisions, is its inclusion of college-age students. Over the years it's become an impromptu reunion for young Juneau-Douglas High School alumni who have scattered to various colleges and careers but return for the holidays. Since kids form their own teams, the college-age players can rekindle friendships.
"It's always neat to see kids playing together and visiting," said Ron Bressette, who helped out and coached in the Holiday Cup as his kids played in every tourney from the beginning through last year. "It's as much a social event as an athletic competition."
Bressette and Houston also noted that the social aspect of the tournament extends to the parents that fill the stands for games. It gives them a chance to socialize and take a break from other worries, Houston said.
"It's a respite from the hubbub of the holidays," she said.
But make no mistake about it - the soccer action is intense.
Gretchen Dierking, a freshman at JDHS, has been playing in the tournament for four years and said the indoor game is quicker than soccer played outdoors.
"Indoor is easier; (the field) is not as long to run," she said. "But it gets hot (indoors), and it's a lot more fast-paced."
"You can't take your eyes off the action," Houston said, or you might miss a key play.
And while crowds may take time to talk among themselves, they also cheer loudly for their favorite teams.
"I think it's really neat to see the community turn out," said Jamie Waste, a coach who has two daughters in the tournament. "It's remarkable how much of the town comes out."
Each year of the tournament, the Odom Corporation has donated large vinyl banners that all the Holiday Cup participants sign. Houston said all the old signs are displayed each year for players to view - and often have a laugh at how they signed their names in years past.
It's a tradition that will continue this weekend as the tenth banner is added to the annals of the Holiday Cup.
"It was wonderful idea," Waste said of the tournament, "and it's grown into a wonderful event that kids look forward to."
The Holiday Cup starts at 8 a.m. on Dec. 21 and usually runs until about 8 or 9 p.m. each evening, with games at Dzantik'i Heeni and Floyd Dryden middle schools. It will be played every day through Dec. 31, with the exception of Dec. 24 and 25. The first portion of the tournament is in a round-robin format, with results from those games used to seed teams for playoffs.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.