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PWSI's Icebreaker tourney blossoms into East Coast institution

Over two weekends in mid-March, several hundred youth clubs will descend on Prince William County, Va. to take part in Prince William Soccer's annual Icebreaker tournament.

Now entering its 15th year, the tournament has grown from just under 100 club teams to an average of around 500 over the last several years.

Handling that number of teams can be a challenge, but it's also helped turn the Icebreaker tournament into what it is today.

"We really like having a diversity of teams from different parts of the East Coast, different states, because in many cases you don't want to go to a tournament and play the same teams you'll play in the league," said Mike Yeatts, executive director of Prince William Soccer, Inc.

This year's edition of the tournament will be held over two weekends, a format adopted to help cope with the high volume of youth clubs coming through. On March 19-20, the U9-U12 boys will play, and the following weekend the U13-19 boys and U9-U19 girls will play the rest of the tournament.

Recently the tournament has even started to attract teams from abroad -- last year a club from Costa Rica flew in to play, and this year a team from Canada will take part in the Icebreaker.

The tournament first started in 1996, and thanks to dramatic growth has changed quite a bit in that span.

"When we started, we used a lot of school fields in Quantico," said Tournament Director Sid Smith. "Now you have [artificial] turf fields and Bermuda grass. It's very competitive, and there are a lot more tournaments out there so we have to keep raising the bar."

The two-weekend format is also a recent development, enacted last year. Given the number of teams that play, it made sense to shift things around and allow ample use of the artificial turf fields in Prince William County. The U9-U12 boys will play on those turf fields during the tournament's first weekend.

According to both Smith and Yeatts, one of the biggest reasons the tournament draws so well is the weather. Many of the past participants have traveled from the New England region, where conditions can still be a bit too cold, even by mid-March.

This year, clubs from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina will participate. Teams are guaranteed a minimum of three games, with most also getting a fourth on Sunday.

Making sure that things run smoothly for 500 teams is a daunting task, and it's a credit to the staff that PWSI has in place.

"We have a dedicated volunteer staff that helps us," Yeatts said. "It starts with the tournament director and goes all the way down to the site coordinators and field marshals on the tournament weekend."

PWSI's own teams also help out. Instead of having to pay an entrance fee, the local players assist Smith and the rest of the tournament organizers to keep things running smoothly at each field location.

The high volume of teams has led to the tournament being held at various fields throughout Prince William County, and even in Chantilly.

Registration for this year's tournament is still open for a few more days, closing on Saturday, February 12.