Virgen's View: Pilot Cup coming soon

Representatives from Costa Mesa and Newport Beach elementary schools gathered for a special meeting Monday night at our office.

They came to find out more about the biggest elementary school soccer tournament in Orange County, maybe even in the state, or perhaps the nation.

Little footballers, coaches, parents and teachers are getting ready for the 14th annual Daily Pilot Cup, which takes place May 28 through June 2 in Costa Mesa.

The tournament is huge with participation and just as big for the youngsters who all want to win.

Kirk McIntosh, the Daily Pilot Cup tournament director, organizes the pre-event meeting to help in the quest to have everything run smoothly.

That's where the representatives come in, or as McIntosh likes to call them, "liaisons." They are in charge of organizing the teams from their school and other duties designated.

"The tournament is so established that it gets easier and easier for me," McIntosh told the liaisons, ensuring them their jobs would be simple if they remain organized.

He, of course, speaks from experience. McIntosh has seen the Daily Pilot Cup grow from when he resurrected the tournament that had been known as the Lions Cup. Back in 2000, when I started working at the Daily Pilot, the Pilot Cup had around 30 teams.

Last year there were 216 teams, the most ever in its history. That's over 2,000 pumped-up kids storming the soccer fields in Costa Mesa. In 2011, there were 207 teams.

I'm not sure if this thing can get any bigger, but I would not be surprised if it did.

The Pilot Cup is a unique tournament that brings the community together in a great way, McIntosh usually says each year. I agree.

The kids at each school don't really get to compete with their classmates in such a big tournament. It's exciting for them. Several teams are already formed and practicing to prepare for the tournament.

There are different levels for boys and girls — gold, silver and bronze divisions — to maintain balance. There are third- and fourth-grade, as well as fifth- and sixth-grade levels

The soccer tournament features boys and girls playing separately in gold, silver and bronze divisions, competing on third- and fourth-grade and fifth- and sixth-grade levels.

The games are played at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex, better known as The Farm, and Costa Mesa High and Davis Elementary.

The six-day tournament takes place on the day after Memorial Day and is played through until Championship Sunday. After the title games there is an awards ceremony.

McIntosh has seen the tournament become easier to run with the tremendous help from volunteers and referees. The liaisons are extremely important for the tournament too, McIntosh said.

The Pilot Cup, in its early years, had its fair share of rough times, mainly because the tournament was so big. In some games, there weren't enough referees to officiate the games. One time, I saw Laird Hayes, an NFL official, ref a Pilot Cup game because there wasn't any other ref around. He was there to watch his son play.

The problems have become fewer.

Unfortunately there are still cases of cheating and bad sportsmanship, but it doesn't seem to happen a lot.

McIntosh went over some of the key rules at the tournament. He said no kid should be cut from a team based on talent. Also every child should play in each half of the game.

McIntosh doesn't totally police the teams. He depends on an honor system and expects the coaches and players to follow the rules.

"This is a fun tournament," McIntosh said. "We don't want to make it a scandal. There are a lot more important things than winning."

McIntosh also stressed the importance of having the kids play on one team from their school and not to switch and play on a lower-level team. It's happened before.

The result is usually disqualification of the teams the player competed on. There are also penalties for bad sportsmanship.

There's even a penalty for teams that win more than a five-goal margin.

McIntosh, as well as the volunteers, just want to make sure the kids have fun. And, the tournament is fun, and very popular.

Throughout its history, the Pilot Cup has attracted celebrities. Last year, Kobe Bryant showed up at the tournament because his kids played on a team.

A few years back, U.S. men's soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann coached a team that had his son playing on it.

The tournament is open to all the public schools in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and all the private schools in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

The fee is $10, and includes a Pilot Cup T-shirt.

Sign-up forms can be found at the schools, or online at our website.

Tournament rules can also be found on our website, which will later be the source for schedules, stories and photos.

Everyone, have fun.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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