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.

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Members of a Blaine Soccer Club team gather ahead of the opening ceremony parade Tuesday night in Blaine. Photo by Jason Olson Alberta, Canadian players dressed in red and white to show their national pride during the opening ceremony parade. Photo by Jason Olson Members of the Blaine SC Storm show off homemade banners during the opening ceremony. Photo by Jason Olson Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Norwegian Football Association delegation member Jan Aage Fjortoft pose for a Handshake for Peace during opening ceremonies Tuesday. Photo by Jason Olson Blaine Soccer Club’s Brian Yokom, middle, and his son Jack Yokom, took the final handoff of the torch before lighting the culdron to officially open the Schwan’s USA Cup Tuesday night. Jack plays for the U9 Blaze and Brian played for Blaine in the first USA Cup 30 years ago.Photo by Jason Olson A young Canadian player waves the national flag as the club was introduced Tuesday. Photo by Jason Olson Cayman Islands players wave to the crowd during the opening ceremonies. Photo by Jason Olson Two Columbian players enjoy the parade of teams participating in Schwan's USA Cup. Photo by Jason Olson Costa Rican players cheer as they are introduced to the crowd Tuesday. Photo by Jason Olson Coon Rapids Soccer Association members wave to the crowd during team introductions. Photo by Jason Olson Members of a Dannish team cheer as they are introduced to the crowd during opening ceremonies Tuesday. Photo by Jason Olson A member of the Haitian delegation wears the countries flag during opening ceremonies. Photo by Jason Olson Two under-16 girls teams,  Ovrevoll-Hosle from Oslo, Norway and Phoenix Fiera from Omaha, Nebraska, link arms in a stadium-wide Handshake for Peace during opening ceremonies. The two teams are Handshake for Peace ambassadors at the tournament. Photo by Jason Olson The crowd of USA Cup participants gather on the field inside National Sports Center stadium to be entertained by a post-opening ceremony concerty by local band Boiling Point. Photo by Jason Olson Japanese team Tokiwagi Gakuen proudly carry the Japanese flag wearing traditional dress during opening ceremonies. Photo by Jason Olson Members of the North Metro Soccer Association show their patriot pride during the opening ceremony. Photo by Jason Olson Members of the North Metro Soccer Association show their patriot pride during the opening ceremony. Photo by Jason Olson A player waves a Norwegian flag during  the opening ceremony team parade Tuesday. Photo by Jason Olson A favorite way to kill time between games for many is to play beach soccer on a sand court built in the parking lot at National Sports Center. Photo by Jason Olson One of the new attractions at the Inaria area near the stadium is a version of soccer and golf played on grass. Photo by Jason Olson Many USA Cup participants wore traditional dress like this player carrying the St. Paul United banner during opening ceremonies Tuesday. Photo by Jason Olson Sweden's delegation was led by an large flag during the opening ceremonies. Photo by Jason Olson Minnesota United FC carried a large American flag into the stadium before the national anthem. Photo by Jason Olson Yuwa Supergoats represented India during the parade of teams Tuesday. Photo by Jason Olson Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Norwegian Football Association official delegation Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Norwegian Football Association delegation member Jan Aage Fjortoft demonstrate a Handshake for Peace during opening ceremonies Tuesday. Photo by Jason Olson
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Blaine Soccer Club’s Brian Yokom, middle, and his son Jack Yokom, took the final handoff of the torch before lighting the culdron to officially open the Schwan’s USA Cup Tuesday night. Jack plays for the U9 Blaze and Brian played for Blaine in the first USA Cup 30 years ago.Photo by Jason Olson