COLUMBIA — Nearly 11 years ago, Columbia Pride soccer coach Rick Hess was approached to be the commissioner of the first Columbia three-on-three soccer tournament, a realm of soccer he knew nothing about.
But Hess, who was serving on the state board for the Missouri Youth Soccer Association and coaching his son's team at the time, jumped at the idea. Hess who always has a smile on his face and tons of energy decided that he could make the event work.
“It’s a community event. I’m not the greatest coach, but I’m a good organizer and I can have fun and find creative ways to have fun,” Hess said.
That first year, only 30 teams signed up. It was played on Reactor Field and goals were hand made with plastic fence netting. No one knew what to expect, but Hess was still excited about the event.
“My favorite part was seeing a neat version of a game I knew very little about, and it just kind of grew,” Hess said.
It was a positive experience for both the coaches and players. Don Carera, who coached a team in that first year, thought it was a great event.
“It was a good experience, we did not know what to expect, but everyone enjoyed it and it just took off,” Carera said.
Hess ran the tournament for three years. He signed the referees, set the outline for the field, and created the rules. However, the event still struggled to get teams to participate, and its sponsor, radio station KFRU, couldn’t afford it. In 2001 KFRU approached the Show-State Games to run the event, and it took off.
Today there are 10 fields stretched across Hickman High School football field with 149 teams from all over Missouri. The goals have real soccer nets. Hess no longer has a hand in running the tournament, but he has left his mark. The tournament still uses the same goals and a similarly outlined field Hess designed.
“The neatest part is the success of it. Just knowing you had a hand in everything,” Hess said.
Still Hess remains a part of the Show-Me three-on-three tournament and has four teams involved. The Pride Revolution Red, White, and Blue participate in the boys under 12 bracket, and the Extreme participate in the under 11 bracket. His teams have won a total of five games out of eight.
Hess coaches the Columbia Pride soccer team, and divides the team into four equal groups for the tournament. However, he takes a break for the games and lets parents coach the three-on-three teams. Hess still helps out teaching players on the side-line during games and helping parents coach the team too.
“Good thing is parents enjoy it, I get to relax and watch. The best thing about the Show-Me State games is it brings parents in, so everyone is a part of it,” said Hess.
Bruce Ungles, the assistant director for the Show-Me State Games, now handles the fundraiser, coordinating the facilities, and setting the schedule. He has helped make the event extremely popular across Missouri. Ungles thinks the event has the potential to expand, but isn’t sure how to do that and accommodate the coaches.
“I wish it could go bigger, but the challenge with facilities and coaches with multiple teams makes it hard to expand,” said Ungles.
Hess continues to remain a big part in Columbia soccer, and always enjoys the state games. He stalks the field every game offering words of encouragement to his players while still trying to grasp how far three-on-three soccer has come.
“I wish I could have an visionary mind, but I had no idea where we were going, by saying let’s make it big, but it has been very exciting,” said Hess.
The tournament will continue Sunday at 8 a.m. where the teams will finish bracket play and compete for the championship.