By Tom Rohrer
Those involved in the soccer scene within Thurston County have developed a culture of friendship, reliability and openness with one another.
Congratulations are given out when necessary, be it for a goal on the field or success in the classroom or work place, and celebrated with one another.
However, trials and tribulations appear along the way, and when support is needed, midfielders, defenders and goalies alike are ready to lend a helping hand.
On Saturday, June 9, the Friends of Mia, a recognized non-profit group that helps offset medical costs for families affected by childhood cancer, held the fourth annual Alumni Soccer Tournament at South Sound Stadium on the campus of North Thurston High School. The tournament featured around 170 players split into nine teams comprised of alumni from local high school’s such as Black Hills, Capital, North Thurston, Olympia, River Ridge, Shelton, Timberline, Tumwater, and Yelm.
Friends of Mia is named after Mia Deligeannis, the daughter of Lani Benavente and Casey Deligeannis and twin sister to brother Noah Deligeannis, who passed away at age five in April after a courageous three-year battle with High Risk A.L.L., also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Casey Deligeannis, a former Timberline High School soccer star who went on to play for the Geoducks at The Evergreen State College in the 1990’s, is thankful and not surprised by the event’s support and participation.
“It’s really amazing that this came together in such a short period of time,” Deligeannis said of the tournament. “But it’s also really not too surprising. The community has been really involved along the way, and that’s just sort of the culture of the group. Everyone who plays soccer knows everyone, and we are always all at the same games and events. But this is so amazing, and my family and our loved ones are so appreciative.”
Benavente echoed her partner’s thoughts.
“We knew people would be excited about it, but we didn’t know it would be this big. Things have been so amazing, people were coming to register today that just wanted to play,” Benavente said. “It’s really great to be in this community because they have supported us the whole time. “
Friends of Mia had an information booth on site at the stadium, as did Wembley Soccer Shop of Olympia, and a number of local food vendors.
Wembley Soccer Shop owner Kurt Gress has been deeply immersed in the local soccer culture for years, and is proud to be a part of such a community.
“It makes me very proud, and it’s really not surprising at all to me how much support has been shown and the number of people participating,” Gress noted.
Chris Knudson, the boy’s soccer coach at North Thurston High School and a friend of both Deligeannis and Benavente says the event reaches out to himself and a majority of its participants.
“It’s really cool for me personally and a lot of other players, because I’ve had some family members battle cancer and lost, and that goes for some of the other guys as well,” Knudson said. “It’s neat to see the community get involved.”
To play in the tournament, which featured two four-team brackets, with the winners from each side meeting in the championship, players had to pay $50, all of which goes towards the foundation. Benavente said the Puget Sound Slammers Under-16 girl’s team contacted Friends of Mia in an effort to help with the tournament, and the Slammer’s players served as the event’s referees.
Players ranged from the class of 2012, all the way back to the mid 1980’s, and throughout the day, opponents helped one another up after falling, quick to share words of encouragement and laughter.
“We’re all competitive, but this was for fun,” Deligeannis said. “It was cool to see the mix of old and young and different styles on each team, and to see the sportsmanship as well.”
The foundation was started in 2009, when Mia was first diagnosed with the illness, and Benavente said similar fundraisers, such as run/walks will be held in the near future. Deligeannis noted that the foundation also works with providing volunteer services and donations for the local Ronald McDonald House
While most of the foundation’s focus has been on supporting families in need, Benavente says the foundation will look into other areas as well.
“For us it’s always been about family support, but we want to branch into cancer research as well. Both of them are so important,” she said.
Following the tournament, a party, featuring a live and silent auction, was held at the Community Faith Center on Pacific Avenue. Guests were treated with drinks, dessert, live music and a photo booth free of charge.
“We had over sixty businesses donate items for the auction and help out with setting up the event,” Benavente said. “It just shows that people around the community care for one another.”
Originally featuring alumni teams from North Thurston and Timberline, the tournament has seen a huge expansion this year, with plenty more to come.
“This is the first year it has been eight teams, and other schools have already said they wanted to get involved in the future, so it will get bigger,” Benavente said.
“It’s a bittersweet event, but it’s a great thing to see everyone come together in friendship and show support,” Deligeannis said. “It’s just a tremendous group effort from a great group of people.”
For more information on Friends of Mia, visit www.friendsofmia.org, or follow Friends of Mia on Facebook.