WILDWOOD - It's hard to play soccer on a lake. By Saturday morning, days of rain had turned Wildwood's famously wide beaches into a vast, temporary inland sea that stretched from the boardwalk almost to the actual ocean.
This weekend is the 11th annual Cape Express Beach Blast tournament. It was scheduled to draw 430 teams to 44 fields of beach soccer, bringing 8,000 to 10,000 people to Wildwood.
"With this water, we should be out there picking rice," tournament director Mike Granigan said as a couple of dozen people approached the tournament's central desk to learn where, if at all, their children would be playing.
Two weeks ago, Granigan said, another 1,000 teams competed on 100 fields, with between 15,000 and 20,000 people taking part, making it one of the larger events in the summer season.
Businesses evidently sought to capitalize on the visitors. T-shirt stores along the boardwalk sought to capitalize on the opportunity. Similar, questionably licensed Hello Kitty and Mickey and Minnie Mouse beach-blast T-shirts jostled for space amid more adult designs.
But with the rain, "we have to figure out how many fields are still viable," Granigan said, walking back to the table. He estimated about 5/6 of the entrants would play some soccer. Just four of the 44 fields were viable.
Distant figures on marginally higher ground chased after soccer balls. Closer in, empty soccer nets and trashcans stood surreally above several acres of standing water.
Out in the water, Newark residents Erik Torres, 42, and his son, Donovan Torres, 11, and Edwin Regaldo, 14, made the most of the swampy conditions, playing volleyball in the shallow water on one empty field, switching up to a splash-intensive soccer game later.
They came down for the tournament, Regaldo said, but may end up not playing.
"At least it's sunny today, so it feels good," Regaldo said.
Over at one of the open fields, Charlie Ebel watched as the Washington Township (Gloucester) Lightning, the team of his 9-year-old son, Charlie Ebel Jr., finished getting beaten 7-1 by the Philadelphia Strikers. Watching, he said, "Oh, they're getting crushed."
Ebel said this was their only game, but he and his son would make the most of the tournament, which included weekend admission to the Morey's Piers amusement parks.
Out on the boardwalk, one of the kids on the winning team, Damon Wiseburn, 9, walked away with his mother Sharon Wiseburn, 40, and his father, John Wiseburn, 39, after Damon scored two goals for the Strikers
They were sanguine. It was a disappointment that they would get to play only one of at least three games, and no chance for a championship, Sharon Wiseburn said.
She added, "But at least they got to play one game."
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