CornerKICKS: PepsiCo Showdown community event has girls, parents excited

CornerKICKS – Joe Trost

The world can be a fascinating place, especially when people speak without having a clue as to what they’re talking about.

It happens each and every day in life – especially on social media. You know, too many chefs in the kitchen. It’s like a plate full of know-it-alls came with a side of emotion in 2020.

But for a person who historically has had little patience at times in life, I’ve been the one preaching patience to many. From student athletes, parents, coaches and high school administrators – take a breath and relax.

It’s going to be fine.

You can’t predict the future, you can only piece it together by looking back. And you can’t change it, so move forward and hopefully make the next day better than the last.

Nineteen years ago when I sat with Lemont athletic director John Young while finishing college, I threw out this idea about bringing city and suburban public and private schools together from all different backgrounds. My No. 1 goal was giving student athletes an opportunity to shine on the same stage together.

That massive platform now called the PepsiCo Showdown Series was born and has expanded each year since, resulting in countless lifelong memories for student athletes, families and communities – not to mention millions in college scholarships. Many of those opportunities have resulted in generational-changing moments for some student athletes.

To this day, the team-tournament events remain free for all kids. I’m so proud of that.

While it started as just a soccer tournament, the PepsiCo Showdown Series has since ballooned into other sports, other states and built a model like Cubs/Cubs Charities, Bulls/Bulls Charities, etc. with its community-service and charitable partner, Buddy’s HELPERS.

With an event like this, you expect to be questioned left and right. I always welcome that. You grow from listening, thinking and having critics at times.

But sometimes, some people who question things have no clue about my background, experience or know anything about the decision-making process. If they did, they’d be stunned by the amount of detail and debate that goes into things.

So it was to no surprise when we decided to announce Opening Day of the 2020 PepsiCo Showdown Girls (Chicago) would take place on July 18, a few people went ahead and assumed things.

You can’t do that, it’s a high school event. It’s a school-sponsored event. It’s a Illinois High School Association (IHSA) event.

Nope, nope and nope.

But wait, how? Because it doesn’t need to be, that’s why.

It’s amazing how many people think they control what you can and can’t do. As I always remind people, don’t let the truth get in the way of the facts.

The PepsiCo Showdown Series is more than just high school events. It’s community, it’s charity and most of all, it’s making a difference on AND off the field. It’s about engaging and educating student athletes through the power of sport to help enhance the lives of others.

We have some events ran in accordance with high schools and state associations, and we have non-high school events. If you didn’t know that, please follow PepsiCo Showdown on social media. Odds are you need more good news in your life anyways these days.

Sadly back in April, we needed to postpone the IHSA-contracted 18th Annual PepsiCo Showdown Girls. It’s one of the signature events of the year in Illinois, because the engagement and impact it creates on and off the field between competitors – many of whom have never met before.

As I talked with different superintendents, principals, college and high school athletic directors from Illinois and other states each week over the past couple months, I started to map out options with my team of volunteers – many of whom are former PepsiCo student athletes.

First, we determined on the recommendation of the board to pay all officials, trainers, vendors and sites back in late April.

This was a pandemic as one superintendent said. “It’s not a weather event.”

There was absolutely zero thought of rolling tournament money over to the next year. One athletic director said to me, “That’s not how high school works.” I responded, “That’s not how the PepsiCo Showdown works. We make a difference on and off the field.”

For example, officials, many of whom have worked the event and donated time to the high school community for years, use officiating as a second source of needed income. Maybe some had lost their first jobs, who knows. It was the right thing to do and make a difference.

Just as school districts paid busing vendors, assigning officials and spring coaching stipends during a period when no games were played – and they didn’t have to pay per state law – we knew this was the right thing to do.

There’s nothing better than helping people, but I kept asking, “What about the student athletes who were impacted?”

It’s easy to say wow that sucks, post some pictures on social media and move on. I just can’t accept that. It’s the same feeling I had when people dismissed Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student athletes last fall during the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) strike.

That period of time changed me forever. It changed the way I looked at schools, teachers and adult leaders in that field. As I’ve described to national media outlets, it was a burning building in Chicago with kids in it and adults on both sides watched it go up in flames. It was embarrassing, disgusting and a disgrace.

You need to push until the final buzzer sounds. No matter what anyone says, the buzzer hasn’t sounded on the Class of 2020 and their chance to play together one last time.

That’s why we announced on social media back in late April that we would host an event in July. Then we announced to team parents on a conference call Thursday that we would host a special 2020 PepsiCo Showdown Girls (Chicago) community event, kicking off July 18.

The communities involved in the spring PepsiCo Showdown Girls have the first opportunity to fill all the free spots for the two-game showcase, which will feature college coaches from throughout the U.S. All spring, I’ve heard from college coaches asking for player lists, because they’re trying to fill spots – not just for this fall but future classes. They lost a massive scouting season, and there is only so much they can see on film.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watch youth and high school sports play firsthand throughout the country and attended many events in different states to watch and learn different protocols. For example, Iowa is playing high school state championships now, and Indiana will begin high school games on July 1.

By the time this PepsiCo Showdown community event – a non-school sponsored/non-IHSA event – takes place, Illinois will be nearing Phase 4B – as long as data continues to trend in the right direction. We decided to make this a community event to ensure all 2020 seniors could take part, which is what an IHSA/school-sponsored event would block.

If for some reason a spot opens up, other communities will be able to join. Medical insurance is provided as part of the event. Each player will sign a Covid-19 waiver, which will become standard for all youth and high school events throughout the U.S.

Health and safety have been and always will be the first and foremost concern, which is why this specific date was picked.

Hopefully at the end of the day, patience will payoff and help create some lifelong memories.

Bio on columnist: Joe Trost is an award-winning writer: STAR Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year; founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.; and board member for Buddy’s HELPERS, which engages and educates student athletes about Making A Difference On AND Off The Field. He also helped launch Making A Difference (M.A.D) Shuttle, which provides transportation options to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student athletes and teams for games and free transportation to-and-from community service projects.