SHERIDAN — It’s memories like these that last a lifetime. The Sheridan Storm, a U16 soccer team, has left the Cowboy State to compete in a worldwide competition in Oslo, Norway.
The Storm is sending 15 boys — who are incoming freshmen, sophomores and juniors — to the Norway Cup. The team left from Denver International Airport Thursday, July 28, and will return Aug. 7. They are bringing 54 people, including family, and they all hope to win a lot of games while away. The Storm has gelled well on and off the field, since many have played together since they were 10 years old.
“The boys are so confident in what they do and have great chemistry with each other,” head coach Scott Cleland said. “They know they’re going to go out there and have fun. Yeah, our goal is to come back with as many wins as we can, hopefully a championship, but if it doesn’t pan out with 156 teams, that’s OK. It’s a hefty feat.”
It all started as a crazy idea thrown out by Jennifer Heermann, mother of Storm player Drew Heermann. The Storm was competing in the USA Cup in Minnesota last year. That’s when Heermann saw an advertisement for the Norway Cup, a “sister tournament” in a brochure.
Cleland recalls relaying the idea to the other parents to see if there was any interest. The idea was well received. It helped that the Storm won the USA Cup and gained confidence while beating teams from coast to coast.
“We felt a lot of excitement,” said Christi Haswell, mother of goalie Beck Haswell. “It just seemed like such a cool opportunity for the kids to be exposed to international travel and playing teams from other countries. And this, the scale and the size of that tournament. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come up very often, and the fundraising work that must go into it. I think that that was a learning opportunity for my son.”
The biggest potential setback was having enough funds for the trip. The cost to send 15 players was roughly $40,000, according to Cleland.
The Storm had a full year to fundraise for travel, new uniforms and gear such as backpacks with an American flag patch. The Storm did everything from a buffalo hunt raffle and auctions to asking for donations throughout the community. The buffalo hunt was both unique and a great success. The team sold 100 tickets at $100 a piece. That was enough to fund around a quarter of what was needed for the trip.
The community’s efforts will be put to good use. The Storm wants to showcase the team’s talents and add another impressive accomplishment to entice college programs.
“Most of it’s about creating memories and opportunities for these boys. A lot of them want to go play in college. It’s about getting them exposure to some higher-level soccer,” Cleland said.
The series of games played in Oslo will be like the pools used at the FIFA World Cup. Each pool has four teams, so the Storm will play three teams from Norway, and the top two teams in the pool will advance to a winner’s bracket. The bottom two teams will compete in a single-elimination bracket. The Storm will play in a field of 156 teams and play two to three games a day once it’s time for bracket play.
The Storm plans to take advantage of the first three days, since the schedule is lighter. The soccer throng will take in tourist activities such as walking the city of Oslo, visiting historic church buildings and even sightseeing a fjord.
“There is also an opening ceremony that the boys are excited about, because all 700 teams are supposed to come to it. There’s also a concert to see there,” Cleland said.
The Storm will have new experiences such as international soccer play, a language barrier and foreign cuisine. It’s these differences the group of soccer families will remember and bond over for years to come.
“We just appreciate the support in allowing the boys travel like this. And of course, Scott Cleland, who’s making all of this happen,” Haswell said. “The organization, the logistics, I mean, that’s a lot. …I’m kind of just waiting to be told where I need to be, and Scott’s done an amazing job getting everything organized. He’s got all the uniforms and gear ready. He’s just done a really nice job, and the boys appreciate it.”