Barefoot soccer tourney debuts at Pavillion Park
By Josh Johnson
Splash Staff Writer
William Miller is a businessman, a sports aficionado and a driven personality, but his decision to start a barefoot soccer tournament came down more to his experience raising daughters and a mission trip to Costa Rica.
Miller was in the Central American country in February with a group from Valley Assembly of God Church. He brought with him donated soccer stuff - cleats, balls, etc.
"That soccer ball was their prized possession," he said. "I had all kinds of soccer shoes and stuff; they didn't care about those. They would play on gravel with ripped-up shoes."
In particular, Miller recalled giving a new ball to a boy named Leo, who attended a chapel service in Los Guidos, Costa Rica.
"He was carrying a ball ripped to shreds, kind of half flat," Miller said. "I tried to get that ball from him, and he wouldn't give it to me. He left carrying two soccer balls - one new one, one old one."
The experience was the needed push for Miller to get serious about an idea he had been considering for a few years - putting on a barefoot soccer tournament.
"I've got all daughters, and they all played soccer, so I've been around it for 20 years," he said. "Playing at home with cleats on, one of them would often get hurt - usually the younger ones. I would say, ‘Guys, come on, play barefoot.'"
When they took their Dad's advice, an interesting thing happened.
"They played better soccer," Miller said. "They dribbled better, controlled the play better. I'm like, ‘This is good for them.'"
With a boost of support and encouragement from Liberty Lake City Council member Josh Beckett, Miller said the idea came together quickly to hold the tournament Aug. 17-18 at Pavillion Park. Local friends Chaz Valdez, Rik Robles and Mike Cousins rallied around Miller to help make the tourney happen, and a partnership with another local organization that knows a thing or two about putting on tournaments also contributed to making the inaugural Barefoot 3v3 Soccer Festival a reality.
"We're actually partnering with Hoopfest to be a beta test with them for software," said Miller, explaining the event's format will be similar to Hoopfest's 16-team, double-elimination brackets that guarantee teams a minimum of three games over the course of the two-day event.
Teams from U9 to adult are encouraged to sign up or learn more by looking up the tournament on Facebook. The event isn't associated with any particular soccer club, and special "One World Futbols" have been purchased to be utilized at the event. The balls don't have a bladder in them, so they don't go flat. Miller compares the material they are made out of to Crocs shoes, providing a "foamier, softer" but with the same weight as a normal soccer ball.
He said the balls are great for bare feet, but even better for use in countries like Costa Rica, where all the balls will be donated following the tournament.
"Across the world, all these kids grow up playing barefoot soccer," Miller said.
The plan is to turn a Liberty Lake tournament on well-manicured grass into an annual way to give kids like Leo the epitome of prized possessions - a futbol that doesn't go flat.