Veteran coach/player O’Brien Byrd calls it an epic event regarding soccer in the Flathead Valley.
“Twenty years of history, rivalry and tradition will come together in the form of a celebration on July 1 at the Grouse Mountain fields in Whitefish,” Byrd said of the first North Valley Cup.
“That’s the birthplace of soccer in Whitefish. That’s where they had all their games until they moved out to Smith Fields 11 years ago.”
What Byrd and the Flathead Rapids, a Flathead Valley team comprised of former collegiate and professional players, have on tap for Sunday are six soccer matches.
The action starts at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. with players ages 14-18 from Whitefish facing those from Columbia Falls — boys first and girls second. Those matches are called Blue vs. Gold.
Matches at 1 and 3 p.m. will pit alumni men and women, respectively, from the two rival high schools — Whitefish and Columbia Falls.
The 10 1/2-hour soccer marathon will conclude with the Flathead Rapids women playing the University of Montana alumni at 5 p.m., followed by the Flathead Rapids men facing their main rivals, the Sandpoint Green Monarchs, at 7.
The event is free. There will be food and beverage vendors and concessions at the fields.
Byrd and the Flathead Rapids were the driving force behind the first North Valley Senior Showcase last November in Whitefish and the first College Exhibition Games in the spring, also in Whitefish.
The Rapids have held camps in July for many years to advance the sport of soccer.
“Obviously I have a ton of excitement and passion for the game,” Byrd said.
“I’m driven to give our game the recognition it deserves in the form of a celebration. The best way to celebrate soccer is to play the game.”
All teams for the North Valley Cup will have full rosters of 18 players.
Byrd said the easy part was getting the youth from Whitefish and Columbia Falls to participate.
The toughest ... finding the alumni.
“A nearly impossible task,” Byrd said.
“But through Facebook and networking, it’s been a month of scrapping together rosters, contacting people.
“Players are coming from Seattle, Portland, Montana, all over the valley,” Byrd said.
To finish off the day, the Flathead Rapids will take the field for what promises to be two exciting matches.
The Rapids men have beaten the Sandpoint Green Monarchs 5-4 in the last two matchups, the last coming last week in Sandpoint.
On the women’s side for the Rapids, current UM player Maddey Frey (Glacier) and future Griz Tess Brenneman (Flathead) will face off against a UM alumni team that will include five current UM players, as allowed by NCAA rules.
Montana head coach Mark Plakorus will coach the Griz alumni.
“It will be cool to have a coach of his caliber for this event,” Byrd said. “It will be an interesting day for many reasons.”
Coaching the teams in the Blue vs. Gold matches will be Byrd, Greg Trenerry, Peter Browne and Wendy Farrens.
Byrd said next year Columbia Falls will have the honor of hosting the North Valley Cup.
Whitefish and Columbia Falls have combined for 10 state high school championships over the years.