The Columbia Soccer Tournament was supposed to kick off April 16, but standing water on the Oerter Park pitch from rain the night before washed away the slate that day.
The citizens of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area have been standing in water, and in some cases rubble, pretty much ever since and a wild week of weather bookended the event by shutting down Columbia’s fifth place match with O’Fallon on Saturday.
The game had been moved to O’Fallon’s turf field, but even the science fiction of that modern surface couldn’t stand up to the reality of Friday’s storm, which had the weather blurb on top of the FOX 2 website, which normally reads something like “Sunny” or “Cloudy,” sporting the ominous phrase: “Funnel Cloud.”
No tornadoes touched down in O’Fallon, but the rain was sufficiently heavy to wash out the Saturday match. The real kicker came Friday night when the bus carrying Columbia’s track team home from Sparta had to pull over to the side of the road and wait out the severe weather like a can of sardines in the mouth of a giant vacuum cleaner.
No one wanted another wasted trip.
“It is April and field conditions are what they are,” Columbia Athletic Director Joe Iorio said.
The first round of games got underway Monday, with Belleville West besting the host Eagles 4-3 and Triad topping O’Fallon 3-0.
Then the Tuesday horrors struck, with detached clouds and rotation and the skies slinking ever lower.
While the Suburban Journals Athletes of the Year scattered for cover at Busch Stadium, Iorio was on the phone, telling the teams involved in his event to stay home.
“We still had standing water on the field and I wasn’t able to move the games to O’Fallon’s turf field that night because they already had previous commitments,” Iorio said. “With the incoming weather the way it was, I wasn’t really comfortable having somebody coming to Columbia with severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings.”
No tornadoes touched down, but a funnel cloud was spotted in neighboring Waterloo and even the professional meteorologists on TV looked scared for their lives.
The cancellation was a no-brainer.
“I’m glad I cancelled,” Iorio said. “With the rain coming just after 7 p.m., Notre Dame and O’Fallon would have had to sit in the middle of a potential tornado while they were waiting to go home.”
The games got in Thursday, with Triad tying Notre Dame (St. Louis) 2-2 and Althoff drawing 0-0 with rival Belleville West. Because of lower goals-against totals, Triad and Althoff advanced to the championship round, which had been scheduled for Saturday. But since the teams were supposed to play a regular-season game Tuesday anyway, the coaches decided that match would stand as the tourney title tilt, rather than risking injury on a wet pitch.
The weather grabbed the headlines, but it is just one part of the story of this truncated tourney.
The field for the 2011 event shrank to six from the eight teams that took part in 2010. For the past few years, the pools had been separated into Missouri and Illinois schools on either side and the event became a border war with bragging rights at stake.
This year, there weren’t enough teams from west of the Mississippi who could make it and the format had to be scrapped.
“We would love to have any Missouri schools, it doesn’t matter how big or small, playing quality soccer teams from the Illinois side of the river,” Iorio said. “I am going to see if I can get this back to where I have teams from Missouri playing teams from Illinois.
“Some of it is scheduling problems, tournament problems, transportation problems. The same thing goes on in Illinois and Missouri.”
If Iorio had a magic lamp to rub and the resulting three wishes, a new artificial field would be right at the top of his list. Those kinds of things only seem to happen in fairy tales, but other communities have had financial wizards wave their magic wands and make the rubber pitch appear.
Iorio is looking for that same spirit in his town, the kind that helped the Eagles fund the construction of their own baseball park this year.
“O’Fallon had their turf field donated, Waterloo’s turf field was donated,” Iorio said. “I wish Columbia had somebody who was in a position to donate us a turf field, but it is a lot of money.
“One of the reasons it was so important for us to get our own baseball field is that at least you have your own park and you have a little control over what takes place on your field.”
Iorio pointed out the current natural surface on the football field isn’t conducive to hosting soccer, but the grounds themselves would make a fine home should the turf materialize in the future.
Whatever surface the tourney is played on, and however many storms they have to weather in the future, the Eagles are looking forward to a return to full participation from their tourney partners in St. Louis.
After all, every spotlight game against the best teams around can light a way toward the postseason limelight.
“In my opinion, this was the best soccer tournament on either side of the river,” Iorio said. “It was the flavor of the tournament, Illinois against Missouri teams, plus the quality of the teams. We have been to state a couple of times, last year Althoff won our tournament and had an undefeated regular season before winning state. We have had teams like Cor Jesu and Nerinx Hall, who are national powers.
“If there is one wish I had for this tournament, it is to get it back to Illinois against Missouri, that’s what I would like to do.”