By Ruben Lowman
Over the next two weekends, the North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex will play host to the largest soccer tournament in the state, and one of the biggest in the entire Southeast.
Coast FA’s 14th Annual McDonald’s Coast Spring Classic will once again return to the complex this weekend, April 23-24, and next weekend, April 30-May 1, bringing cleated soccer players of all ages to the beach to soak up a little sunshine while playing the sport that they love.
The tournament is split into two weekends because of the high volume of teams participating, as well as to allow the different age groups more games, said Coast FA Director Heyward Gulledge. He said they historically have between 350-425 teams in total that participate annually in the tournament that come from anywhere between five to ten states.
Over the first weekend, Gulledge said there are around 140 teams that compete, ages 12 through 19 from the Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland and several other states across the nation in full side, eleven versus eleven games. The second weekend sees more than 200 teams, ages 8 through 12, arriving to compete in the spring classic in small side games of seven versus seven and nine versus nine.
Gulledge said the tournament was held last year under excellent conditions after taking a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the organizers of the classic are excited to be back on track and in the swing of things with their usual routine, and are looking forward to the next two weekends at the sports complex.
“Everyone at Coast FA takes great pride in hosting a tournament that helps our community and also provides funding for local kids in need to be a part of Coast FA,” Gulledge said.
The Spring Classic was started initially to offer local teams a variety to their opponents that they don’t normally face, as well as giving them competition that was up to their correct level of play. The classic is played at a few locations throughout the Grand Strand to accommodate the size and scale of the tournament, including Doug Shaw Stadium and Market Common.
Games in the local area are held at both the NMB Park and Sports Complex and Michael Nash Field next to the J. Bryan Floyd Community Center in Crescent Beach. Over the first weekend, all of the 15U to 19U boys and girls games will be held at the two North Myrtle Beach soccer facilities, while 11U to 12U will play on the fields over the second weekend.
“The Coast Spring Classic is celebrating our 14th year and the event is a perfect example of what is possible when local government and a youth soccer club work together,” Gulledge said.
Coast FA receives A-Tax funding from the city of North Myrtle Beach, Horry County and the city of Myrtle Beach to help them with the tournament, Gulledge said. Coast FA, the local club soccer team that has trained and guided so much of the NMB Chiefs soccer players in recent years, is appreciative of the funding they get, which they use to lease the sports complex for the duration of the tournament.
“We in turn rent their facilities to run the tournament that will pump an estimated $4.5 million into our local economy,” Gulledge said.