Handshake for Peace highlights opening ceremony

While the eyes of the baseball world were fixed on Target Field Tuesday evening, the largest youth soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere was officially opened for the 30th Schwan’s USA Cup in Blaine.

Under pleasant weather conditions, a record number of teams (1,060) were introduced to the capacity-filled stadium at the National Sports Center for the opening ceremony celebration.

To mark the anniversary, a pair from each of the 18 countries took part in a torch relay, starting with the Norwegian delegation, home to the Norway Cup which was the model used to form USA Cup.

Representing the United States and accepting the final handoff before lighting the cauldron were Brian Yokom and Jack Yokom of Blaine.

Brian participated in the first tournament as a player for Blaine Soccer Club, and his son Jack is a member of the under-9 Blaze team.

Before the team parade began, Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission Director Paul Erickson introduced the Handshake for Peace program, which is a FIFA initiative to promote peace and fair play.

Helping introduce the program Tuesday evening was Thor-Erik Stenberg, an official delegate from the Norwegian Football Association, along with Jan Aage Fjortoft, a member of Norway’s 1994 World Cup team. Fjortoft was also an official delegate and is a well-known soccer commentator in Norway.

The Handshake for Peace program was adopted by the Norwegian Football Association and Nobel Peace Center more than four years ago and was included in the pregame ceremony at each World Cup game in Brazil.

USA Cup became the first youth soccer tournament in the world to adopt the pre-game handshake, and each player received a bracelet as a reminder for peace.

Two 16-year-old girls teams served as ambassadors to promote the program, including Ovrevoll-Hosle from Oslo, Norway, and Phoenix Fiera from Omaha, Nebraska.

Overoll-Hosle won a 2011 Norway Cup championship and made it to Blaine after three years of fundraising doing a variety of jobs, such as performing school patrol, selling toilet paper and cleaning up garbage in their neighborhoods.

Local band Boiling Point helped close out the picturesque evening with a set that kept soccer fans going well into the night.

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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