The Westlake Invitational Soccer Tournament (WIST) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this Memorial Day weekend, where 230 teams from six states will fill this region to unite to play soccer.
The event will be hosting U8 teams through U18 teams, which range from 7-year-olds to high school athletes, and will take place at soccer fields in North Olmsted as well as Westlake.
The event has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1983. It started with a couple of coaches putting together a small event with 14 teams playing a friendly tournament. The teams were literally housed in the homes of Westlake residents.
The event has been through a rollercoaster ride of tough times, but ultimately created a significant impact on Westlake and surrounding cities.
“For the first years we just invited in teams for a friendly-style tournament, then it went to an invitational tournament where we had full-on brackets and everything, and was hovering around 100 teams throughout the ’90s,” WIST director Tom Werling explained. “Then in the 2000s, it was almost killed off because we started to lose teams; but a group of people took it on to see what they could do to make it bigger. Since that, we’ve reached our highest point, at 256 teams.”
Werling is proud of the way he’s been able to maintain the consistency of the tournament with 200-plus teams for 30 years, with help from a lot of people.
“We’ve had some very difficult years. We had a rainy spring where all the fields were very decimated – we had nothing but rain all spring,” he said. “The leagues canceled (the spring season), and people didn’t even get to play a soccer game. We were going to cancel the tournament. We were able to put it on by a lot of people working hard, and we didn’t cancel. Even though the fields were horrible and the weather was terrible, we still played and everybody was thrilled to come in and play. That was pretty challenging.”
This event is one of Northeast Ohio’s biggest. It has an enormous economic impact as reported by the U.S. Soccer Foundation, and brings in approximately $2 million.
“As far as I know, on the West Side it’s the largest economic impact that we (Northeast Ohio) do,” Werling said. “There are carnivals and things like that, but they don’t really draw in people to hotel rooms and restaurants in the area. The people come here and spend quite a bit of money.
“We sell out all the hotels in the area. Restaurants are packed and Crocker Park is jammed.”
U8 and U9 play friendly games where there is no championship, so it promotes fun. The rest of the age groups up through high school play divisional play, and there are 39 divisions that are broken into “like” play, and then they play for a championship and runner-up trophy. They play round robin with the championship games, so it’s basically on a point system, which they call “pool play.”
“This helps our association and helps us run programs that would
be too expensive to do without the fundraising,” Werling concluded. “It