Daily Pilot Cup youth soccer tournament is back for 19th year

Chris Esparza, left, battles for the ball against Tate Oyler during a boys' sixth-grade gold division game Tuesday in the Daily Pilot Cup youth soccer tournament.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Many local schoolchildren look forward to the week after Memorial Day, and not just because summer is fast approaching.

The 19th annual Daily Pilot Cup soccer tournament, which began Tuesday and continues through Sunday, offers young players of all skill levels a chance to play for their respective schools. The tournament features boys and girls competing in third- through sixth-grade divisions. Teams are divided into gold, silver and bronze levels.

Tournament director and creator Kirk McIntosh said 210 teams will vie this year from 31 schools, public and private. Games will be in Costa Mesa at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex, Costa Mesa High School and Davis Magnet School.

The $10 tournament registration fee includes a Daily Pilot Cup T-shirt.

McIntosh said he most values the sense of community the tournament creates.

“The Pilot Cup offers an opportunity every year for kids who have never played any kind of organized team sport,” he said. “They go out there and they play soccer and they just have a blast. They’re not worried about winning and losing. They have their team T-shirt on and they have a sense of school. When their game’s over, they go over to another field where their team is playing. It’s easy to find them because they have the same color shirt.”

McIntosh said a wrinkle arose this year when the tournament couldn’t use the stadium at Costa Mesa High until Saturday and Sunday. As a result, he said, fields Nos. 1 and 2 at the Hammett Sports Complex — the ones closest to Fairview Avenue — have been split into four smaller fields for third- and fourth-graders.

“There’s always something, and we get through it,” he said. “It worked out pretty good, actually.”

McIntosh said he is thankful for the volunteers who make the tournament run, including scorekeepers Pam Garrett and Wendy Moore, referee director Jeff Grant and all the volunteer referees, many of whom work multiple games per day.

Defending tournament champions in the gold divisions include Mariners Christian (boys 5-6), Andersen (girls 5-6), Kaiser (boys 3-4) and Mariners Elementary (girls 3-4). This year’s champions will be crowned Sunday afternoon.

As McIntosh said, some kids aren’t as concerned with wins and losses but just want to represent their school. Rachel de los Santos’ 9-year-old son Shane, a third-grader at California Elementary, would fit that bill.

De los Santos, a science teacher at Estancia High School, said Shane hasn’t played soccer in four years. He’s been focusing on swimming with the Costa Mesa Aquatics Club, but that won’t stop him from playing in his first Pilot Cup.

“He came home from school super excited to sign up for the Pilot Cup,” de los Santos said. “He wanted to play with his friends that play soccer outside of school. It’s great that kids who don’t play competitive soccer get a chance to enjoy the sport with their friends.”

Twitter: @mjszabo