Soccer is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States and there’s proof of that here in Foley, Alabama.

The Gulf Coast Invitational (GCI) is the longest running club tournament in the area, and the largest single weekend tournament hosted by Foley Sports Tourism (FST). Bayside Soccer Club, who is the host club, has been running the GCI for over 35 years and estimates 196 teams will participate this weekend (April 12-14) at the FST Fields.

One of the teams participating will be the Perdido Bay Futbol Club’s 05 Girls, coached by Ken Skinner. Skinner has been involved with soccer since he was four years old, playing for the Pensacola Futbol Club and eventually at West Florida High School. He also played in the GCI twice.

“I always remember it as a great local event that brought in lots of good competition.  It was always great having that competition travel to you,” Skinner said. “Now from a coaching perspective, I’ve seen the event grow and become more competitive each year.  I love being able to see the Academy teams come out and learn in a more competitive environment. This helps the players learn how to develop a competitive drive at a young age where they can learn to compete.  I don’t have to have my parents travel overnight for the players to experience this at a young age, which is the best!”

Snap Soccer’s GCI Site Director, Zack Touchstone, also has a special connection to this tournament. Touchstone has been involved with soccer since he was six years old. A three-sport athlete, he was active year round in soccer, basketball, and baseball. At the age of 12, he decided to hang up the other sports and focus his attention on soccer which he played in both club and high school divisions.

When Touchstone went to college, Snap Soccer Executive Director, John Guidroz, reached out and asked if he wanted to see a different side of the sport, the administrative side.

Back in his playing days, Touchstone remembered GCI being a massive event even then and knew the tourney would be a huge undertaking from a planning perspective. However, Touchstone explained there were things about the tournament, no matter how stressful, he wanted to keep intact.

“The passion for the game,” Touchstone said. “Being able to work around the game all these years has been great. “Since my playing days, it has been incredible to see how much soccer has grown over the last 10 years. That makes me excited for the future.”

The excitement has made Touchstone admit he prefers planning over playing, something that’s also true of the FST staff said Event Operations Coordinator, Luke Persall. Persall has been around soccer about as long as Touchstone, doing everything from playing to officiating to planning.

“I love the opportunity to help new players fall in love with sports,” Persall said. “Here at FST, we are committed to encouraging that passion because just like with Zack, 10 years down the road that’s what these kids will remember. They don’t know what doors sports will open, but the adventure always promises to be exciting.”

The Gulf Coast Invitational kicks off at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 13, and runs through the weekend.

For more information on the tournament contact Stephanie Donald.