ALMA -- If you organize it, they will come.
That hasn't been the official motto for 7-on-7 tournament director Bryan Smith over the last eight years, but that is how it has worked out for him and his event in the River Valley.
Smith started the tournament back in 2013 and now the 8th annual Alma Airedale 7-on-7 Showcase presented by Lumber One is today at Airedale Stadium.
It has been a long journey for the event. It started as a small tournament in Charleston with eight teams and has transformed into a 14 varsity program, 24-team mega event now in Alma that is competing with the best 7-on-7 tournaments in the state.
"I never envisioned this lasting eight years, to be honest," Smith said. "If you would have told me we would get to 24 teams and probably going to continue to grow, I would not have believed that. I don't see this slowing down. I wouldn't have guessed this would be happening. Seven-on-seven wasn't very big when I started this in 2013. It has really grown tremendously."
The field this year will include Alma, Bentonville, Bentonville West, Conway, Fayetteville, Fort Smith Northside, Fort Smith Southside, Greenwood, Rogers High and Springdale Har-Ber all bringing a varsity and junior varsity team. Van Buren, Farmington, Green Forest and Coweta (Okla.) will all bring varsity teams to the event as well.
Pool play for the tournament starts at 9 a.m. and will go until 4:15 p.m on four different fields. The 14 varsity teams then will be seeded based on pool play and begin a single-elimination tournament at 4:30 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for a 6:10 start.
The genesis of the tournament is rooted in Smith's love for high school athletics. He played at Charleston and graduated in 1983.
After he graduated from college, his old football coach Mike Adams was looking for help. He needed a public address announcer. Smith stepped up to fill that role and eventually many more. He helped with stats for the football and basketball teams along with public address duties for over 30 years at Charleston. He also is a longtime referee and has been to many Southwest Elite 7-on-7 events in Northwest Arkansas, where he draws a lot of inspiration from for his tournament.
"My son (Alma offensive coordinator Chris Smith) is a coach and my wife is a nurse," Smith said. "They did both what they love. I went into the corporate world. I always say I missed my calling. I would've loved to have been a coach. That's kind of what pushed me back to helping out at this level."
Alma second-year coach Rusty Bush is excited to finally host this event after it was canceled last year because of covid-19. It was something he was looking forward to but summer football plans were put on hold. Now the event is back and bigger than ever.
"We think this tournament is special," Bush said. "With the quality of teams and the number of teams, there will be a lot of competition out there. We can put ourselves up against any tournament in the state in my opinion. I want to help Bryan with his vision to make this one of the best. I don't want to preach to these kids to be the best on their end and not bring the best on my end. We want to bring things like this big tournament to Alma and let our community and others enjoy it. We want people to see how special this place is at Alma."
Bentonville West is the defending champion from 2019 after beating Mansfield 30-28 in the championship game that came down to the final play.
Wolverines coach Bryan Pratt said the program is ready to make another run at it. This time they'll break in a new quarterback in Jake Casey.
"There is going to be some really, really good competition," Pratt said. "I think there are multiple teams there that we have to compete against. It will be good for us. It gives us a chance to evaluate where we are at. Everything is fast there. We love the speed of the game in that event. We will get a lot of reps for our young quarterback. We have a chance to get better and you can't beat that. When you come into anything, you want to win. We'd like to defend our championship."
For a team like Van Buren, an all-day event like this presents an opportunity to see who can step up and fill voids. The Pointers lost more than 3,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing and 1,400 yards receiving from the graduated duo of Gary Phillips and Jaiden Henry.
Van Buren won't be at full strength with quarterback Connor Brady not able to make it, but coach Crosby Tuck is excited to see his team grow with Bryce Perkins and Clark Seeger leading the way at quarterback.
"This is an opportunity to impress in the quarterback battle," Tuck said. "They get a chance to take a lead for sure. This event will be big for us at the quarterback position. But the secondary has some question marks too with a lot of new guys. It will be good work for us on both sides of the ball. This is a great opportunity for our team and everybody out there to get better."
Presented by Lumber One
At Airedale Stadium
Pool play begins at 9 a.m.
Tournament play begins at 4:30 p.m.
Championship scheduled for 6:10 p.m.