Western Slope Athletes unite to ‘Play It Forward,’ for Emily | PostIndependent.com

Western Slope Athletes unite to ‘Play It Forward,’ for Emily

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent file

SPRING VALLEY, Colorado – Emily Johnson loved both soccer and people.

That’s why her mother, Sheryl, wanted to do something that connected her daughter’s passion for the sport to her love of people. Saturday and Sunday’s Emily Johnson Play It Forward 3v3 Soccer Tournament will mark the actualization of Sheryl’s goal.

The inaugural tourney, formed as a memorial to the gregarious Coal Ridge High School student who died in a November 2008 all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident, will serve both as a competitive outlet for Emily’s fellow lovers of soccer and as means of funding a scholarship set up in her name.

“[Soccer] was her passion,” Sheryl said. “She loved it. There are so many other things that make up Emily too. Not just soccer makes her who she was, but it’s a wonderful way to honor something she loved and to be able to, you know, pay it forward, to bring other kids in. It’s a way to offer them something with her memory and her name.”

Some 14 fields and nearly 40 teams will grace Gates Soccer Park this weekend, fields filled up with players of all ages playing fast-paced, three-a-side soccer.

Fields will be 30-by-40 feet for teams 12-and-under and older, and 20-by-30 feet for squads 10-and-under and younger. There are no goalkeepers and players have limited space for play development.

“The conditioning is a lot more like basketball,” said Coal Ridge High School boys and girls soccer coach Brian Blair, one of the tourney’s chief organizers. “It’s a lot of short spurts. The field’s a lot smaller so you have to counter quickly and get back on defense. It’s all about the small touch and quick skills. You can’t kick it and chase after it.”

The format, though, is secondary to the greater reach of the day’s events.

Tournament proceeds will benefit the Emily Johnson Play It Forward Fund, which feeds two Coal Ridge High School scholarships. Beginning in 2010, one scholarship will be awarded to an outstanding soccer player with a passion for the game and another will go to a student who exemplifies his or her particular passion in life in some creative way.

Donor Alliance, the organization through which Emily donated her organs for transplant at the time of her death, will also be on hand at Gates throughout the weekend signing people up to become organ donors. Emily’s organs have saved five lives.

It’s just another way the tournament will serve as means as paying it forward. It’ll also keep Emily’s memory blazing bright for years to come.

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