Alumnus hopes Legends Game is legendary

The Durango Youth Soccer Association and Fort Lewis College soccer programs could have more than $4,000 in donations to split up Saturday evening, when All-Americans, national champions, community heroes and Average Joes combine forces to put on a “legendary” soccer show for Durango.

Former FLC All-American Tom Donley said he conceived the Legends Game as a way to connect the Fort Lewis soccer alumni with their fans. This gives that community a chance to team up with Durango greats on the pitch and help provide a new generation of footballers with financial resources to fuse into the sport.

“I wanted to create an event where they could bring their families, connect with people and give back to the people who’ve supported us through the years – give them a chance to play alongside us,” said Donley (2002-06), who now lives and works in the Front Range as an senior audit associate.

“Durango is a very special community when it comes to outdoors and athletics and particularly soccer. We’re all used to watching those FLC teams play. This is an opportunity to see neighbors, coaches, community members playing alongside current national champions, former national champions, All-Americans and all-around good people.”

Initially, the plan was to have 40 interested players pledge or donate about $250 with the hopes of raising about $12,000 total, but Donley said that turned out to be a bit ambitious for the inaugural Legends Game. Instead, he dropped the donation threshold to whatever players were able to give, which Donley said still will raise about $4,000 with each of the 40 or so players donating $100 apiece.

“I’m super excited for how much we’ll have raised,” Donley said. “This being the first year, I think it’s going to be a pretty big success.”

Half of that money will go to DYSA specifically for scholarships for families in need.

DYSA director Kate Stahlin, who partnered with Donley to put on the game, said the money will go into the nonprofit club’s general scholarship fund to help cover registration fees, uniforms, travel and more for players who don’t have the means to cover the costs.

The fund covers “any kid in Durango or the surrounding areas who wants to participate in DYSA but maybe can’t because of financial restraints,” Stahlin said. “It’s just enabling us to help more people.”

This year, she said the funds were able to help out 58 players, and “that number is rising every year.”

“This really opens the door even greater to allowing kids who otherwise might not have the opportunity to become involved in the soccer environment of Durango,” Donley said. “It’s a good way to get a few more kids in the door.”

The other half of the money raised by the Legends Game will go half-and-half to the FLC men’s and women’s soccer endowment funds.

FLC athletic director Gary Hunter said those endowments draw interest for the programs and also allow the athletic department to draw out funds to pay for needs that arise during the season that weren’t anticipated in the line-item budgets.

“The fundraising events that our teams conduct are invaluable,” Hunter said. “We very much appreciate all the efforts being done.”

So far about 35 players have signed up to play, including several All-Americans such as last year’s FLC national championship goalkeeper Ryan Wirth, Bryan Eisenbraun, David Barden, who scored the game-winning goal in the Skyhawks’ 2009 national championship, and Donley himself. Both the FLC men’s (Oige Kennedy) and women’s (Damian Clarke) coaches are playing, too.

But Donley said the game isn’t exclusive; it’s open to any community members who want to play.

“We really want this to be a community sponsored event,” Donley said.

Those interested in participating should contact Donley or Stahlin, he said, and anyone who wants to donate can find him at the game.

Donley also said he hopes to have a substantial turnout to watch what should be a “good, fun” game.

The Legends Game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Dirks Field, just as the day’s Durango Soccer Shootout games are coming to an end. Stahlin said she and Donley decided to hold the game during Shootout weekend to piggyback off the soccer-saturated atmosphere and maybe even get some out-of-town coaches in the game.

Donley said he has two people from New Mexico signed up to participate.

“It doesn’t hurt that the Fort Lewis College men’s soccer side won the national championship last year,” said Donley, who kept the Skyhawks’ goal in 2006, his All-American and national runner-up season. “That’s good marketing.”

Donley said his goal is to turn the Legends Game into an annual event that DYSA and FLC could count on each to shore up their budgets.

He said he’d like to see the game become a tradition like the Snowdown parade that the Durango community can anticipate as a finale of sorts for the Soccer Shootout.

“He really values the town of Durango and obviously the college soccer program and our youth soccer program,” Stahlin said.

jsojourner@durangoherald.com