This week's intensely hot temperatures come as excitement begins to heat up for thousands of athletes across the country bound for Knoxville.
This Sunday, the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) kicks off its week-long national games event in Knoxville. The AYSO National Games are held every two years. Previous host cities include Irvine, Albuquerque, and Chicago. This is the first time the AYSO National Games have been held in Tennessee.
Local AYSO chairperson Dianne Stratton and other volunteers now have less than a week to put the finishing touches on two years of preparation for the games. Those preparations include lots of grounds-keeping to present a perfect pitch to hundreds of soccer teams and their families.
"We've redone the fields to give the kids the best playing surface we possibly can," said Stratton. "It's been a lot of long nights, early mornings, but very big gigantic hearts have come together for this big labor of love to welcome a lot of people to town."
The week-long tournament will be held at fields across Knox County and at Regal Soccer Stadium at the University of Tennessee. While crews work to green up the pitches, the event is expected to generate considerable green for Knoxville.
"AYSO estimates the economic impact will be more than $9 million. But we know economic impact is a subjective number," said Kim Bumpas, president of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation. "So the numbers we're really trying to focus on right now is that it is 3,300 athletes and around 6,500 people with their friends and family. That's the real numbers of the people that are going to be here over the week. They're going to get exposed to our community and see what we have to offer."
AYSO is a volunteer organization, so Stratton said KTSC has provided a greater level of experience to help them host the event.
"They (KTSC) have really been phenomenal in helping with all the things we might not think about like signage. It's all to make sure when these people come to Knoxville they have a pleasant experience. The impact of hosting an event like this is a lot bigger than just soccer," said Stratton.
"We'll have a lot of people in town from all over the country and this is our chance to show them what Knoxville is all about. If you see people around town, treat them with your best bit of Southern Hospitality. Offer to help them find things and make sure they have a great time," said Bumpas.
KTSC and AYSO said volunteers are still needed for various events throughout the week, including registration at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday as well as the opening ceremonies Tuesday at Thompson Boling Arena. Anyone interested in volunteering may contact KTSC media relations representative Kim Davis at (865) 523-7263.
Full maps and itineraries for the 2012 AYSO National Games can be found at the organization's website.