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Originally published Monday, October 15, 2012 at 12:19 PM

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Big soccer tourney, other sports tourism, goes up in smoke in Wenatchee

This autumn's wildfires have dealt a body blow to the lodging industry and other tourism businesses in the Wenatchee Valley as smoke has forced cancellation of the annual Apple Cup and other sporting events.

The Wenatchee World

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WENATCHEE — This autumn, sports tourism in the Wenatchee Valley has pretty much gone up in smoke. Make that wildfire smoke.

Running? Slowed. Tennis? Whacked. High school sports? Many events relocated or postponed. Local sports organizers and promoters have estimated lost revenues at $600,000 and higher since lightning-caused fires began Sept. 8 and, a few days later, smoke pushed air quality to hazardous levels.

And now soccer's been booted.

On Wednesday, a fifth week of unhealthy air due to continued wildfires forced cancellation of the 30th annual Apple Cup Soccer Tournament, the area's fourth-largest sporting event.

Set here for this past weekend, it was expected to attract almost 3,000 out-of-towners and fill nearly every local hotel room to give the local economy a pre-winter kick of just over $400,000.

"For the health and safety of the kids participating, as well as for the spectators, we must put aside our desires to host the tourney and err on the side of safety, not fun," said organizer Colleen Hendrickson in a letter to players and coaches. She cited poor air quality as the culprit.

By late last week, registration for the tourney had hit 121 soccer teams, with more than 100 from outside the area. The estimated 1,175 athletes — boys and girls, ages 6 to 18 — were to arrive with 100 coaches and an estimated 1,650 parents and team supporters. Soccer-loving spectators were expected to number several hundred each day.

"It's a real disappointment, but what can you do?" sighed Matt Kearny, marketing director for the Wenatchee Valley Sports Council. "Hotels, restaurants, retailers, service stations — they all take a hit when a cancellation of a big event like this occurs."

Even worse, he said, hotels took a double hit financially. "Thinking they were filled up, many hotels turned away other reservation requests for this weekend," he said. "That's a room rental they're not likely to get back."

Wenatchee Fire FC, sponsor of the soccer tourney, and registered teams might also take a hit, explained Hendrickson. A portion of registration fees — up to $250 per team — has already been spent with vendors, she said, and the amount that will be returned isn't clear yet.

"We're working hard to get the numbers and determine how much (of registration fees) can be refunded," Hendrickson said. The group has a Monday board meeting where these finances will be discussed.

Axing of this year's Apple Cup followed cancellation of other local sporting events, including Wenatchee's River Run Half-Marathon and the Fall Doublesfest Tennis Tournament at the Wenatchee Racquet and Athletic Club.

Meanwhile, area high schools were forced to cancel, postpone or relocate dozens of sporting events through September and into October as wildfires burned and smoke choked the area.

"Schools were massacred by the smoke situation," said Kearny. "Games were moved or canceled, traveling costs soared and ticket revenues plummeted. Not a good situation when you've got budgets to maintain."

Athletic departments, including those in Wenatchee and smoke-heavy Cashmere, continued this week to determine if practices, games and matches would be held outdoors, if at all. Websites delivered updates to parents and athletes several times a day.

"Frankly, I can't imagine a more difficult situation," said Hendrickson about the soccer tourney cancellation. "We cannot say sorry enough to the kids for their disappointment, but we cannot in good conscience ask them to come" and play in unhealthy conditions.

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