The annual Christmas Insomnia Soccer Tournament is a little known tradition that dozens of Yukon families have been participating in for more than a decade, held over three days each holiday season.

What began as a fundraiser for a Canada Summer Games team in 2004 has gradually become an end-of-year mainstay for university students returning home on break, youth teams looking to develop their skills, and even a few hangers-on who aren’t quite ready to hang up their cleats.

Spencer Rich was the coach of the Canada Games team that launched the tournament. “I think we had eight teams the first year…I was part of the group that ran it for a couple of years after that, then the Senior Metro League took it over. So, this year will be the 13th one.”

Current organizers Haley Stallabrass and Alejandro Pulido (with help from Harrison Kwok and Willie Quarton) secure the space, sponsors, referees, and create schedules for the men’s and women’s teams that register themselves for the event. In addition to the many hours spent managing logistics, they all play as well.

“I like to organize events and I’ve played in this tournament since I can remember, so I knew how it had been run in the past,” Stallabrass said. “I moved back home after university in 2013, so I volunteered the following year and have been doing it since.”

Pulido added, “I’ve always loved the fast pace and high intensity of the tournament. It’s been a great way to get people together over the Christmas season and see some friendly faces returning for the holidays.”

The tournament’s name pays homage to the late hours the games can extend into, with some years as many as 13 teams competing for the championship. The games are fast paced and scheduled tightly.

Despite the busy time of year, Yukon soccer superfan Don Barker says he can’t think of a year he has missed the event. Barker’s son grew up playing the sport in the Yukon and has since moved south, but that doesn’t stop him from cheering from the bleachers each December.

“It really is amazing to watch the players change over the years – and not just their soccer skills,” Barker said. “You get to know all these kids and appreciate seeing them turn into really great men and women.”

The Yukon soccer community is a tight knit group, and still grieving the recent loss of one of their own. Donny Richardson was a skilled player and beloved teammate who passed in January 2017.

As the most recent recipient of the Most Valuable Player award, this year marks its renaming in his honour. A lifelong soccer player, Richardson delivered a nail biting performance in goal as his team “The Fellowship of the Big Squish” fought to play in, and eventually win, the championship game on the men’s side.

The 2017 final will feature a moment of silence prior to kick off, and each player in the tournament will sport a jersey bearing his name and number, thanks to the generosity of his long-time employer Kluane Drilling Ltd.

2016 sponsors included True Scale Design and Consulting, Home Hardware, Yukon Brewing, The Soccer Shoppe and Yukon Built, with organizers seeking new opportunities each year.

Anyone interested in becoming a player, volunteer, sponsor or just enjoying some of the action can find updates and info on the Yukon Soccer Metro League Facebook page.

Games will take place December 29 to 31 at the Vanier Catholic Secondary School gym.