Two days, 400 teams, 1,000 games
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This year, teams were divided into 52 divisions, grouped by age and skill level. The players’ ages ranged from 8 to 19. The tournament ended Sunday night with the championship games of the oldest boys’ and girls’ divisions at the Mitchel Athletic Field Complex in Uniondale, announced by students from Hofstra University’s school of broadcasting. In keeping with an annual tradition, the club presented the MVPs of both games with college scholarships.
Charity is a large part of the soccer club’s focus. It is a nonprofit organization, and all the money it raises funds its programs, training clinics, tournaments and intramurals.
In 2009, the group renamed one its younger age brackets Melissa’s Rainbow of Joy, which, along with a charity of the same name, honor Melissa Siegel, an East Meadow resident and soccer player who was killed in 2000 when she was struck by a drunk driver. The charity, founded by Melissa’s sister Allison, promotes drunk driving awareness.
The club also sends jerseys and equipment to soccer clubs and churches in the Bahamas, Haiti and Grenada each year. “So there’s East Meadow jerseys running around in the Bahamas,” said Alio, a co-vice president who has been with the club for 21 years.
The club hosts seasonal intramural and travel programs, other tournaments and an indoor winter league at Coleman Country Day Camp in Merrick.
Schwartz said that neither the club nor the summer tournament would be what they are today without the efforts of Stanley Ruppenthal, a Nassau County police officer and a club president for 10 years who died last year. “Under his direction, the tournament grew to its highest levels,” Schwartz said.
The event has been canceled just once, in 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene made landfall on Long Island the day the competition was scheduled to begin. Schwartz recalled that he and Epstein sent emails to thousands of parents two days before the games were scheduled to start, informing them of the cancellation. Legally, Schwartz said, the club could have kept the entry fees that had already been collected, but instead it refunded every penny. “It was a big financial hit for the club,” Schwartz said. “But you have to do the right thing.”