D.C. sniper puts soccer tournament in perspective

For players on the U16 and U17 Royals girls soccer teams, last weekend was supposed to be an exciting time of playing soccer against some of the best teams in the nation in a prestigious East Coast tournament. More than 300 college recruiters were ready to scout more than 6,000 players — some of the best young soccer talent in the country.

Instead, the Washington, D.C.-area WAGS tournament was cancelled because of the threat of sniper attacks.

That put the brakes on the trip planned by the two Royals teams — the only two teams from Washington state invited to the tournament.

Federal Way’s Mandy Ploskonka, Rachael Christenson and Tina Ruiz play for the U16 Royals team and all three are sophomores on the Federal Way High School girls soccer team. Vicki Rodriguez, who plays for the U17 Royals, lives in Federal Way and attends Kennedy High School.

“The kids were pumped to be going back there, but it’s one of those situations where safety comes before playing the game,” said Nick Ruiz, Tina’s dad and an assistant coach for the team. “You have to put it in perspective. There’s hundreds of kids out there who are literally target bait. As a coach, you always have the safety of your kids in mind wherever you go.”

The team was supposed to stay in a hotel just two miles from one of the shootings. The hotel was put into lockdown after one incident.

Cancelling the tournament is the right thing to do, although difficult to take for the players who had spent about a year practicing, preparing and fund-raising for the trip.

“It’s kind of depressing because we had so many college coaches who would have been looking at us, but then again we have next year and it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Tina Ruiz said.

It’s the first time in 28 years the tournament has been cancelled.

The tournament’s Web site explained the difficult decision: “It is the opinion of Board of Directors and the Tournament Committee that the lives of the players, parents, referees and volunteers are far more valuable than any soccer game or tournament.”

The Royals are looking to play in other national tournaments, but most are filled up and are tough to get into on short notice.

The D.C. tournament’s Web site probably says it best:

“We only wish that circumstances were different.”

The circumstances do put winning and losing into perspective. A game versus life is no contest.

Associated editor Cole Cosgrove can be reached at 925-5565 and

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