By Lee Davis
Bill Bowron really wasn’t thinking of sponsoring one of America’s top youth tournaments when he first became interested in soccer a little more than two decades ago. The motive was much simpler.
“My son was a very active little boy and we wanted to find a team sport in which he could channel all that energy,” said Bowron, the chairman, CEO and president of Red Diamond, a Birmingham-based beverage and food company. “We tried several sports, and he was best suited for soccer. After that, I fell in love with the game.”
Bowron became involved with the Birmingham United Soccer Association and became a licensed coach. As is the case with all youth sports organizations, Birmingham United needed a fundraiser. And Bowron had an idea.
“Lots of clubs do things to raise money such as having a car wash or selling pecans,” Bowron recalled. “We decided to host a soccer tournament.”
The tournament had a modest beginning. When a couple of sponsors dropped out, Bowron stepped in.
“We were looking for a sponsor, and I said OK, Red Diamond will sponsor it,” he said. “That began a 15-year association that continues today.”
The Red Diamond Classic has grown into an event so large that it’s now spread over two weekends. This year’s tournament will feature boys competition on March 4-5, followed by girls competition on March 11-12. Games will be played at fields all over the area, including U.S. 280, Heardmont Park in North Shelby County and Mountain Brook High School. Admission for games at all locations is free, although some places may have parking fees.
Bowron said the Classic draws many of the nation’s elite youth teams from all over the United States.
“Teams come from places like Connecticut and Indiana for two main reasons,” he said. “One reason is because they can play on green grass with warm temperatures at this time of year as compared to what they have at home. The fact is that they know they will be competing against elite teams from all over.” Elite local teams from Mountain Brook, Hoover, Vestavia Hills and Homewood will also participate.
The tournament will draw more than 300 teams – which is good news for metro Birmingham as far as economic impact.
“These teams will bring about 20,000 family members and friends who will stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores,” Bowron said. “It’s expected to bring about $7.5 million to our area. This year, the tournament will reach the $100 million mark in total economic impact for the greater Birmingham region.”
Scouts from the nation’s top college programs will also attend many of the tournament games, Bowron added.
In addition to sheer numbers, the Red Diamond Classic is also a valuable marketing tool for the community in general, according to Bowron.
“It’s very much like an investment in our future,” Bowron said. “The young people visiting here are at an impressionable age. They soon will be making decisions about where to attend college and where they will live and work later in life. When they see the wonderful quality of life we offer, we are attracting a future generation to our city.”
While economics and marketing are important, Bowron puts an even greater value on the influence that participation in youth sports can have on a young person’s life.
“It’s so important to find a place to channel a youngster’s energy in a positive, uplifting way,” Bowron said. “If that doesn’t happen it’s so easy for a kid to get into trouble. Youth sports gives them something to do with their energy while learning so many lessons that will help them later in life. Sports teaches them how to win and how to lose; how to be a good sport and how to work with others in pursuit of a common goal. And most of all – it’s just plain fun.”
Bowron said that his own experience in soccer contributed to his appreciation of the game’s impact on youth.
“Through my years of coaching soccer, I’ve been proud to be involved in a sport that positively impacts children of all ages,” he said. “It allowed me to spend extra time with my son, something for which I’ll always be grateful. Youth Soccer is fueled by parents who become involved and invested in teams because of their children only to realize a far greater return than they ever imagined.”
As the tournament enters its 19th year, the Red Diamond Classic is a product of that dedication.