George Alley: Bringing the world’s game to Harmon Field

Published 10:09 pm Friday, June 19, 2015


By Mark Schmerling


Next Tuesday, June 23, through Saturday, June 27, Harmon Field in Tryon will host a multi-national-themed celebration known as the Kirby Cup, a soccer tournament for youth.


This is the 11th year for the tournament, founded in 2005.


Daily sessions will be held from June 23-26 from 8:30-11:30 a.m., with the tournament and picnic from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on June 27. There will be 80 students — 36 rising third through fifth graders, and 44 rising sixth through eighth graders — competing in this round-robin format, representing the four nations of Chile, New Zealand, Korea and Ivory Coast, where soccer, sometimes called football, is revered.


Kirby Cup Camp Director, Tryon’s George Alley, is a natural for this event, having played and coached soccer for many years. Alley, soccer coach at Polk County Middle School, played soccer in high school in New Hampshire, but did not receive an offer to play for a Division I college.


Regardless, soccer has been a burning passion for him and his family, and continues through daughters Rhian and Reese, both avid soccer players. Rhian, the elder of the two, starred for Polk County High School’s varsity team this past season, while Reese is on her way up to that level.


One might think that Alley began the tournament as a way to include his daughters, but he says he started this tournament before they were eligible to play.


Alley’s wife, Erin, also played soccer, and was All-American in lacrosse at Brown University.

“That’s where the girls get their talent,” Alley modestly stated.


Possessing an athletic background having started playing soccer at age seven, Alley also was, he said, a “pretty avid skier.”


He said he “moved to Colorado to ski for a year, and stayed for seven.” That’s where he and Erin met.


Later, Alley worked at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and was executive director of a soccer club. Becoming more involved there, he earned the U.S. Soccer Federation’s “B” license, that group’s second highest designation.


Alley explained that every place he’s been he’s been able to engage in pick-up soccer games. “To me,” he said, “that’s what makes it one of the best games in the world.”


“Soccer has been kind of an entry point every time I moved,” Alley noted. “I made a lot of friends through soccer. That’s where the inspiration for the Kirby Cup came from.”

The Kirby Cup is named for Dave Kirby, who donated money to Polk County Community Foundation (PCCF) for events that encourage sportsmanship and athletics at Harmon Field. Support by PCCF’s Kirby HF Fund insures that the entire camp and tournament experience is free to participants, with each receiving a T-shirt and a ball.


Each day of the camp players will watch one national team play, learn about that country, and train in that country’s style of play. Coincidentally, World Cup soccer competition is happening now.


By representing countries other than their own, participants learn something of each country, and also about related issues, like human rights, in those countries.


Participants must supply facts about the country they represent. Kirby Cup officials “try to open their minds, how global this game is,” Alley said.


Foods at the picnic will represent the four nations highlighted in the tournament.


Other multi-national influences come from individuals who lend their talents and passion to the tournament. They include Polk County High School varsity soccer coach Lennox (“Rock”) Charles, from Trinidad, and Chris Abril from Peru. The initial camp and tournament in 2005 featured teams representing Mexico, Peru, England and Trinidad and Tobago, as several individuals instrumental for the event’s initial success hailed from those nations.


The tournament format encourages players to self-referee. “We don’t have referees, so the parents don’t have anyone to yell at,” Alley explained.


Alley’s knowledge of Harmon Field, which came from managing it for four years, is a plus. He explained that competition is limited to 80 participants, due to the size of the field, and number of adults present.


Alley explained that the City of Tryon has been a partner in the event, and has prepared the fields for play. Tryon owns Harmon Field, the former site of Tryon High School.


“Harmon Field and the town have always been supportive,” Alley said.


The event means a lot to area youth.


“A lot of kids make new friends,” Alley remarked. “I think they get a sense of the soccer community, which extends to Landrum.” He also noted that participation also encourages players to watch the World Cup tournament.


Polk County has long enjoyed a strong soccer program, Alley said. Even today, youth and adults often mix in pick-up games.


“This is really a neat little place to develop soccer skills,” Alley noted of the community.


Kirby Cup team coaches are local players, Kirby Cup alumni and coaches with a passion for their respective countries.


Alley, who is modest of his own skills, and who generously passes credit to others, noted with humor, and some pride, a shirt that two Spanish-speaking individuals at the first Kirby Cup gave him during the Kirby Cups’s first session.


On a sleeve, it simply states El Jefe (“the boss”).



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Photo of kids in red jerseys:
The 2014 winning Kirby Cup team represented Chile.


George in gray T-shirt 9606:
George Alley sports his Kirby Cup T-shirt that designates him as “El Jefe.”