The PepsiCo Showdown has arguably been the most anticipated high school tournament each year since 2003, featuring teams and student athletes from all over the Chicagoland area.

From the city to suburbs, private to public schools and players and fans from diverse backgrounds, the much-anticipated event creates opportunities – on and off the field – like no other high school showcase around.

On the field in 2016, the PepsiCo Showdown featured 297 total games and nearly 25,000 minutes of soccer between the boys and girls tourneys. Since its inception, there have been exactly 2,400 total games played and more than 20,000 boys and girls soccer players showcased in the largest high school tournament in the U.S.

“One thing that makes the PepsiCo Showdown what it is today is that it features schools and players from all over the Chicago region,” said tournament director Joe Trost, who created the PepsiCo Showdown when he was in college. “As a young sports reporter, I saw how some coaches – for whatever reason – refusing to get out of their elite box and play other schools and communities.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity to play different schools at a central location, and that’s how it all started. It’s pretty cool to sit back and see what it’s become today, from an exposure standpoint with media and college recruiters to all the good it has done in the community. I run into former players and parents all the time, and it makes me smile when they talk about how the PepsiCo Showdown was one their favorite high school memories and that they still follow it today on social media or see it on TV.”

The 15th Annual PepsiCo Showdown Boys kicks off on Sept. 9 at the McDonald’s Soccer Complex in Oak Brook, which puts the large soccer event back in a central location that is easily accessible from all major highways. The full NCAA-like tournament schedule and seeds will be announced throughout the week of Sept. 4, with the event kicking off later that week on Saturday.

“The McDonald’s Soccer Complex provides what the Lyons Soccer Complex did for 10 years – a central location that is a true halfway point for all schools traveling,” Trost said. “There is plenty of warmup space for all teams, access to restaurants and so much more in the area.”

This year’s boys tournament is made up of 64 schools and more than 1,500 players for the second consecutive year. It will expand to 80 schools in 2018 and 96 schools in 2019 before capping off at 128 schools in 2020 like the girls event.

Since 2003, nearly 90 percent of schools return each year to the PepsiCo Showdown. Only five schools that have either won or appeared in a title game over the past 15 years are not involved in the 2017 event.

Off the field, players and schools involved in the PepsiCo Showdown have been in the news quite a bit this year a part of the “Making A Difference On AND Off The Field” campaign. The campaign is in partnership with Buddy’s HELPERS 501(c)(3), a nonprofit uniting Chicago-area high school student athletes and teachers/coaches in an annual community service campaign built around giving back and making a difference in the lives of others.

This past April, PepsiCo Showdown Girls teams collected 7,500 children’s books on Opening Day and later donated them to a Chicago Southside elementary school. On Opening Day of the PepsiCo Showdown Boys, the 1,500 players plan to donate more than 3,000 adult jackets to bring awareness to National Suicide Prevention Month.

World Suicide Prevention Day is Sept. 10, and its goal is to remember those affected by suicide and to raise awareness for those in need of help.

“According to a Center for Disease Control study, more than 3,000 high school students attempt suicide each and every day in the U.S.,” Trost said. “Chicago’s teen suicide rate is the highest in the nation, and we need to help rid the stigma around this subject.”

A jacket is something most take for granted. But to some, a jacket represents comfort and warmth – both physically and mentally during tough times. The 3,000+ jackets will be a part of a surprise delivery to a Chicago homeless shelter on Sunday, Sept. 17 to help enhance the lives of those in need.

“The players are competitors on the field, but teammates off the field in the game of life,” Trost added. “The 3,000+ jackets will bring awareness to the daily suicide attempts and at the end of the day, the players also will be able to help those in need with a men’s or women’s jacket.”