Surf Cup Sports’ Mike Connerley Earns Top Spot
“It is finally time to recognize the outstanding leaders in soccer with a new feature on the Most Influential People in Soccer Today,” says Editor-in-Chief Diane Scavuzzo. “This editorial series looks at the business and coaching side of the world’s favorite sport.”
“There is no one better to launch this new feature with nor who deserves this recognition more than Mike Connerley. Even if he is semi-retired now, he is a leader among leaders. A man who has given so much of his life to helping others, Connerley has brought a high level of professionalism to youth soccer and raised the standard of excellence in youth soccer.
While raising the bar on what people expected at a top youth tournament, he created an environment showcasing Best of the Best which has helped thousands of players receive college scholarships. Plus, Connerley’s soccer tournaments have brought in over a hundred million dollars to San Diego’s local economy and raised the visibility of youth soccer.”
For more than a quarter century, Mike Connerley has been one of the key players in the rise of youth soccer in San Diego County as the Director of the hugely successful Surf Cup presented by Nike, which this year celebrates its 37th year of competition.
The San Diego Surf Cup draws the attention of thousands of spectators each year and attracted over 450 college coaches and scouts in 2016. There’s no better place to play and be recognized
Kicked off in 1981, Surf Cup has grown to be one of the top three premier youth soccer tournaments in the nation, alongside Dallas Cup and Disney Showcase.
Eclipsing all other youth soccer tournaments, Surf Cup attracts thousands of players and family members over multiple summer weekends at two major Southern California venues, bringing in an amazing $35,000,000 to the local economy.
In the past five years, the tournament is estimated to have meant over $139 million in economic impact to San Diego County. Perhaps more important to Conneley, the tournament has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars which have been donated to soccer related charities.
The city of San Diego has selected Surf Cup Sports as the winning proposal in the bid process to take over the highly desired polo fields lease – a property that Connerley has taken care of for many years. The new 28-year lease will be approved by San Diego City Council this month and work can hopefully begin soon on the approximately one hundred twenty acres located at the southeast of the corner of Via de La Valle and El Camino Real in America’s Finest City. With the goal of proper stewardship for the land and giving back to the community, Connerley and his team are the perfect fit.
“Since I have known Mike, I have been amazed at the number of lives he has touched and the overwhelming respect for him from some of the biggest names in soccer,” says Pat Collins, Connerley’s good friend and partner in helping to bring about the new SoCal Sports Complex in Oceanside. “No matter where we go or who we meet, someone has a story with Mike.”
“No one has been more instrumental in the development of the competitive soccer landscape in Southern California over the past 20 years than Mike Connerley,” says San Diego Surf SC President Jeremy McDonald. “Under his stewardship, the Surf Cup tournament has become one of the most respected and competitive tournaments in the nation. As a former President of Surf Soccer Club, Mike presided over much of the club’s past success and growth, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude.”
The soccerloco Surf Cup’s Director of Operations, Rob Haskell, who works closely with Connerley on the organization’s tournaments says, “At 66, he’s still fighting the fight, setting the bar higher and higher, and we continue to follow his example. He’s a champion of the sport and a credit to his profession in every way, and soccer continues to benefit.”
“Mike Connerley is an industry and thought leader,” recently appointed Cal South President Derek Barraza says. “His work at Surf Cup set the standard for elite youth soccer tournaments at the local, national, and international levels. Cal South is fortunate to have Mike’s leadership as an example for our tournament directors and league officials. His work has literally changed the lives of tens of thousands of young soccer players. Mike Connerley is Excellence in Soccer.”
“Mike Connerley is an icon in the soccer and event world,” said Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) former commissioner Sarah Kate Noftsinger. “Over the last 30 years his events have not only sustained the ebbs and flows of the constantly evolving environment, they have thrived and set the standard.”
Nomads SC Technical Director Derek Armstrong says, “Mike has done a fantastic job and has raised the level of soccer tournaments in the United States. He is a friend who we compete with, and I respect him.”
“Mike stands for everything that is good in the game – fair play and equality for every top player or team out there, no matter what club they play for,” says LA Galaxy San Diego Director of Operations Michael Duggan. “He has dedicated his time for many years in every single capacity, from coach to manager to president, and now he runs the number one tournament in the U.S. His tournament is not just the best for the quality of players and teams on display, but also because it is a fantastic soccer festival for everyone to enjoy – coaches, players and spectators alike. Mike is a very tough act to follow.”
“Surf Cup is one of the largest youth soccer tournaments on the West Coast and the economic impact is huge for San Diego,” Steve Schell, former Vice President of the San Diego Sports Commission and now Sports Strategic Sales Executive with Experient Sports, told SoccerNation in 2011. “During the soccer tournament’s three weekends, the Surf Cup utilizes more hotel rooms than any other youth sporting event in San Diego.”
In November 2011 Connerley was honored by the champion San Diego Sockers for his contributions to the sport. At that time, Sockers General Manager John Kentera, who worked with Connerley during the early days of the soccerloco Surf Cup, said, “Mike Connerley has meant so much to the soccer community and San Diego soccer for the past three decades.”
David Dawson may have the most unique and insightful perspective of Connerley, having known him since he was playing alongside Connerley’s son, Josh Connerley. Dawson’s father, Michael “Mick” Dawson, worked with Connerley in the early years of the soccerloco Surf Cup as the head of Public Relations, and brought his son into the soccerloco Surf Cup family beginning in 1994. Over the years, Connerley has gone from being “Josh’s Dad” to Dawson’s colleague and mentor.
“Mike’s strongest asset is recognizing people’s individual talents and encouraging them to bring those talents to his team,” says Dawson. “Attention to detail is so important to Mike, and in that way he is like the Steve Jobs of youth sports tournaments. You might not notice the individual things he worries over and pushes his team to get perfect, but the overall effect of his leadership is felt in the quality of the events.”
Even before taking the helm at the soccerloco Surf Cup, Connerley was heavily involved with soccer through his son. As he explained once, “I first started volunteering and helping youth soccer at Leucadia Soccer Club when my son started to play soccer back in 1979. After my son graduated from youth soccer, I just stayed involved and continued to build the Surf Cup tournaments.”
Why is Connerley so successful? Why has he been able to make such a huge impact on youth soccer, not only in the San Diego market but across the USA? Because Connerley is a perfectionist who does the job right.
Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and now President and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce said, “As the largest Chamber of Commerce on the West Coast, I want to express my support and enthusiasm for Surf Cup Sports. Thousands of small business benefit directly from the spectators and participants. People learn about San Diego from coming to a Surf Cup event.”
Colin Chesters, former Director of Coaching of San Diego Surf SC says, “I have known Mike for years – he has been involved in youth soccer for over 30 years. I remember when Mike started as a Surf board member and then became President of the club. In those early days, Mike hired the first paid coaches. It was under Mike’s leadership that Surf SC hired a Director of Coaching – Surf was one of the first youth soccer clubs to do this. The Surf Club and Surf Cup took off at that time, the club becoming a top 10 Club in the nation and the Surf Cup becoming the best tournament in the USA.
“The reason for Mike’s success is his forward thinking, his attention to detail and sincere generosity,” says Chesters. “These qualities are what make him a great leader and innovator. Mike spent many years donating his time helping to guide Cal South until he retired from that a few years ago. I think it is safe to say that Cal South has missed his guidance and wisdom. On a personal level, Mike is a great husband, dad and friend that I will always respect and be grateful to for helping give me a chance to lead the best and most professionally run youth soccer club in the country.”
“Under that gruff exterior is one of the nicest guys – a man who is honest, fair and whose word is as good as any written contract,” says Collins.
“I have known Mike for 18 years and have talked with him almost daily for more than a decade. I know firsthand that Mike doesn’t do what he does for the money but to be, like his motto of the tournament says, ‘The Best of the Best.’”
“What makes Mike special?” says Noftsinger. “Sure, he is the legendary Surf Cup man. However, he has a genuine interest in making sure there are opportunities for the kids and it’s always about the kids, it’s never about him. Mike shares his knowledge; he’s a family man that truly wants to grow the game and provide opportunities for many generations past his tenure. He understands it’s more than just a game. I thank my blessings every day to have had the chance to learn from Connerley and his team.”
“Having worked with sport event organizers for 20 years, I have to say Mike Connerley is one of the best in the business,” says Schell. “His knowledge, ability to work with others, dedication to his event and wiliness to share his expertise allow him to stand out from the others. I feel blessed having worked with Mike and am honored to be his friend.”
“Mike’s influence on the youth soccer community extends so much further than Surf Cup,” says Dawson. “He pushes excellence in everyone he works with, he encourages others to fight for the continued growth and development of the sport, and he touches lives in ways that can’t be measured. Since my own father passed, ‘Josh’s Dad’ has also become ‘My Dad,’ and I’m honored to be a part of the Surf Cup family.”
As Chesters says, “Mike you are a star. So many people owe you so much. On behalf of all those thousands of people, thank you.”
“I have known Mike Connerely for decades. Mike is one of a kind. There is no one better than he, and I am proud to call him a friend,” says Jeff Illingworth.
For the first time ever, SoccerToday launched a tribute to the Most Influential People and Mike Connerley of soccerloco Surf Cup takes the top spot when this new feature kicked off last year. This article was updated and republished as the feature continues this summer.
Often it seems that recognition lists and features are a dime a dozen, which is why SoccerToday News waited to launch the Most Influential People in Soccer.
After six years of covering youth soccer in the USA, and being read by millions of readers, we are very proud of this new feature and our reader response. There is no question that Mike Connerley has had an enormous impact on youth soccer and we are proud and honored to have had the opportunity to work with him over the past four years, bringing “The Best of the Best” to our readers.