Real Salt Lake president talks Xfinity Challenge
To this day, Bill Manning can vividly recall how special it felt to play one of his high school playoff soccer games at Hofstra Stadiumn in New York.
The now-Real Salt Lake President has harkens back to that memory when he starts organizing events such as the Xfinity Challenge, a high school football event on Sept. 29 that will draw two high-level powers to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
"I'm a big high school sports fan, and always have been," Manning says. "I love the camraderie, love the school spirit. Now I'm able to give back and provide a first-class venue for these kids."
The games are still weeks away, but Manning can hardly contain his excitement. Already, the challenge appears to be the premier out-of-state match-ups of the year.
Last season, Alta blew out Taft (Calif.) and Jordan handled Notre Dame (N.J.) with relative ease. Both programs requested tougher competition, and they'll get it as nationally ranked St. John Bosco (Calif.) and Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) come to town.
Both programs were in the RivalsHigh Top 100 this week. St. John Bosco will have to deal with the Beetdiggers' potent offense, while Alta and its vaunted passing attack will have to overcome a Don Bosco program that some consider the best in the country over the last few years.
Sponsorship from Xfinity, SportsMed Utah and the city of Sandy is helping cover travel and accomodations for the teams. But the big draw, Manning says, is the venue itself and the treatment the teams know they'll get. The athletic director of Don Bosco called Notre Dame before scheduling the contest.
"Last year, I was a little disappointed the games weren't close, but we thought we executed the event well," Manning says. "They told the guys at Don Bosco we treated them like pros."
Future goals for the Challenge include drawing more of a crowd from outside of Alta and Jordan supporters with big-name programs, and possibly getting the game nationally televised on ESPN.
However, Manning says, he expects the two Utah schools to stay the same, in part out of respect to the community that helped build the stadium.
"We hope it helps Utah football in general," he says. "Having these kind of contests brings credibility to football here. If Alta wins, if Jordan wins, it helps the other teams in the state."
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon