What started out as just a six-team round robin soccer tournament has evolved into a 50-plus team behemoth.
Saturday, more than 50 junior varsity and varsity soccer teams from across the region will converge on South Mississippi for the annual I-10/I-20 Blast Tournament, which is in its ninth year in the current incarnation.
Because of the number of teams, the tournament is split across six locations in Harrison County. In addition to the Gulfport Sportsplex, games will be held at the Gulfport High School track field, Gulfport's Milner Stadium, Gulfport's soccer field at the Herbert Wilson Gym, St. Patrick High School and West Harrison High School.
This year's teams include Our Lady Academy, Resurrection, Sacred Heart (Miss.), St. Andrews, St. Patrick, Pass Christian, Long Beach, South Jones, West Harrison, West Jones, Biloxi, Clinton, George County, Gulfport, Hancock, Harrison Central, Madison Central, Northwest Rankin, Oak Grove, Ocean Springs, Pearl, Petal, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, St. Stanislaus, Gautier, Pascagoula, South Jones, West Harrison, West Jones, St. Paul's (La.) and Sacred Heart (La.).
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"I'm proud of it, but it's a monster," Gulfport girls coach and tournament organizer Chris Pryor said. "When we started off, it was three girls teams from the north and three from the south, which is why it's the I-10/I-20 tournament. It's not even the biggest tournament in the state but we're getting there.
"To get all these teams to come down to the Coast, I'm proud of it."
The depth of talent is arguably at an all-time high. This year's slate includes four 2015 Mississippi state champions (Madison Central boys and girls, St. Stanislaus and West Jones girls) as well as three '15 runner ups (Sacred Heart, Ocean Springs girls and boys). St. Paul's, out of Covington, La., is currently ranked No. 3 nationally according to MaxPreps.com.
"It's a good, competitive atmosphere," Pryor said. "I think what has happened is, a lot of Coast teams have gotten better so more teams see the benefit of coming to the Coast because we're competitive.
"I'm proud of it. It can be a little overwhelming to try and put it on, but I've been doing it for so long that I know what to expect."
With the exception of Oak Grove and Pearl's girls playing Friday, and two JV games, the rest of the tournament's 48 games will take place Saturday.
Admission for the tournament is $5, with the ticket valid for any game across the six venues.
For the full schedule, see SunHerald.com.