The 25th annual Baker Blast will be a taste of the future for some and a nostalgic final soccer tournament for others of the 172 teams participating this year.
The 2015 Wilson Motors Baker Blast begins with first kickoff at 2:40 p.m. Friday, June 26, and goes through Sunday, June 28. More than half of the teams participating are from Canada, others are from Washington and Oregon and one Under-13 girls team is coming out from Austin, Texas to play on their way to see the FIFA Women’s World Cup, said tournament director Lance Calloway.
“This tournament is going to be bittersweet,” said Spencer Wallace, a member of the Whatcom FC Rangers BU19.
Wallace and his teammates have played together since forming as a U12 team nearly eight years ago. Many of them are now graduated from high school and will be going their separate ways, so this tournament serves as a last hurrah for the close-knit group.
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“These guys, they’re my best friends,” Wallace said in a phone interview. “I’ve been playing with them for the last eight years and to get together and play one last time will be fun.”
The group of guys, made up of current and former players of the Rangers team over the years, set their own schedule for this tournament. There are no official practices, the coach considers himself to be more of a formality and winning is not the main goal.
“This is about a weekend of fun and enjoying each other’s company before going on to college,” said Henry James, coach of the Rangers BU19 team. “They are going to be able to run everything on their own and I will just have the opportunity to be there and watch the game.”
This team was the first U12 with the Rangers and subsequently the players have been there the longest. The thing that has motivated them to come together again for this tournament is the same thing making them a unique team, and that is the camaraderie off the field, Henry said in a phone interview.
“From the very beginning a lot of people in the Rangers organization saw this as a special team,” he said.
BJ James has also been on this team since the beginning and this last tournament is going to be a send-off for the Squalicum High School graduate. He and Wallace played together on their high school team as well as the Rangers but BJ does not expect to keep up with the competition.
“Competitively, it’s probably over for me,” BJ said in a phone interview.
The Rangers are hosting the tournament, and in many ways Baker Blast feels like having home-field advantage.
“It’s a lot of fun because it’s home and we know a lot of people there,” BJ said. “It’s relaxing actually.”
For BJ and Wallace, the tournament is nostalgic, but for others it is only the beginning of what can be local soccer legacy.
Robert Knowles coaches the WFC Rangers GU12 Gold team that only formed a few weeks ago.
It’s exciting to have the opportunity to have so many firsts with a team, Knowles said. This will be their first tournament and the first time many have a chance to play against international teams.
“I enjoy working with the young groups,” he said. “They have so much enthusiasm. Being able to introduce the sport to them in this package.”
Knowles has been a coach with the Rangers for more than a dozen years, he said. In that time he has coached boys, girls and many different age groups. He has attended Baker Blast nearly every year.
The tournament has a great identity, as an event run by a local group where the young teams can go and watch the older players and learn, he said.
Being able to compete against Canadian teams from the very beginning can also be a learning experience for the U12 team. The age groups may be a little different and the season also began earlier for the international groups coming down to play.
“It’s fun to play against groups from a different area who have different philosophies or styles,” Knowles said.
Another young team that has been with the Rangers now for a couple of years, is showing promise. The WFC Rangers BU14 Gold team were semifinalists in the Washington State Youth Soccer Championship Cup.
“They are a very ambitious team, probably one of the most talented teams we have in our program,” said Jason Conway, coach of the BU14 team.
Conway has been coaching for the Rangers 19 years now but this is his first with this team. He has been to Baker Blast almost every year and has seen the tournament shift from being more focused on local teams to expanding internationally and attracting more competition.
“I think the reason you play competitive soccer is to play against the best teams you can play against, and Lance has done a great job of providing this strong competition,” Conway said.
The WFC Rangers and Northwest Soccer Fields historically have hosted three tournaments over the summer, but this year there will only be two, Baker Blast and the 2015 Rimland Challenge.
“We are operating two tournaments, combining the girls and boys August tournaments,” Calloway said.
Baker Blast 2015
Northwest Soccer Field
Ferndale High School
Friday, June 26
2:40 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturday, June 27
8 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday, June 28
8 a.m. - 5 p.m.