The familiar sounds of mower blades whirr in the distance. A vendor restocks the soda machine under the pavilion. And there’s a chocolate lab pup looking for a game of tug over in the dog park.
It looks and feels like a normal Wednesday in mid-May out here, really.
But beneath the docile surroundings carpeted by 317 acres of emerald turf at Stuart Sports Complex lies a layer of energy, of anticipation – of anxiety.
“It’s about to become a madhouse,” says Kevin Glock, the Fox Valley Park District’s athletic operations and tournament manager. “In a good way.”
That’s because Stuart – the third-largest outdoor athletics complex in the country – will this weekend play host to the biggest soccer tournament ever staged in its 37-year history.
Presented by Chicago Empire FC, the Puma Generations Cup runs Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. The second-annual amateur event features 275 teams representing 13 states and Canada; 4,125 players; and 17 divisions comprised of boys and girls, ages 8-19.
“Stuart, itself, is one of the nicest maintained and manicured grass facilities in Illinois, the entire Midwest,” says Matt Tunis, the director of operations and partner at Chicago Empire. “I work so hard at getting regional teams here just so they can experience Stuart.”
The sheer magnitude of the tournament required a week’s worth of adjustments and re-mapping, as Glock stared down 317 acres of blank canvas with the end goal of producing 47 total soccer pitches of four different sizes to accommodate all age levels.
Glock singlehandedly painted field dimensions and boundaries on 46 of the 47, using a GPS-equipped field-lining machine the District purchased in the spring of 2019. The athletic artwork required 250 gallons of field paint, the equivalent of 1,600 20-ounce bottles of your favorite sports drink.
“Painting,” Glock says. “That’s the main thing responsible for my increased levels of anxiety this week.”
The Puma Generations Cup celebrated its inaugural event last spring at Stuart, where 215 teams assembled in what Glock labeled a “test run, because we didn’t know if we could host this many soccer teams.” On average, the complex welcomes 125-200 teams per weekend during the season, but that number includes baseball and softball.
In 2022, Chicago Empire’s rental agreement granted exclusive use of the complex Friday through Sunday to accommodate attendance of more than 10,000 daily, including spectators, and game and tournament officials.
Registration for the event opened in November with loyalty discounts offered to returning teams from last year – “and we retained our original number,” Tunis says.
“Once it was confirmed that we had exclusivity at Stuart, we kept building. The marketing actually stopped in early April, because we were reaching our goal already – and a lot of that had to do with the quality of the venue. The fields are all in perfect soccer-playing shape.”
On Friday morning, the Stuart grounds crew applied the remaining aesthetic touches, cutting all fields to a lightning-quick inch and a half – “We can get away with that right now because of cooler temperatures and some moisture,” Glock says – and hand-blowing the grass clippings from playing surfaces.
“Every field, whether it’s for 5-year-olds or 18 on up, gets the same exact treatment,” says Aaron Reinhart, the FVPD’s athletic turf manager. “If you were involved in sports as a kid, you might not remember the score of every game, but you can probably still name some of the sweetest fields you ever played on.
“We want Stuart to be part of those conversations.”
Interested in maintaining and manicuring one of the Midwest’s premier outdoor athletics facilities? We’re hiring seasonal turf management staff at Stuart Sports Complex! Visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org for more information.