Irish expatriates must yearn for many features of their homeland: the fierce winds and breathtaking beauty of the Cliffs of Moher; the eloquent storytelling of their countrymen; the sweeping fields of endless green; that midget who danced for Guinness at the pub. But a group of Irish nationals living in Denver longed for their beloved Gaelic sports. They reminisced about Gaelic football, a mixture of soccer and rugby, and hurling, a hockey-like game played with a small ball and a curved wooden stick. The Old Sodders kicked around the idea of starting a local squad. In 1996, tired of infrequent scrimmages, Dubliner Shay Dunne organized an impromptu organizational meeting, and the Denver Gaels were officially born.
Fast-forward eight years, and the Gaels are hosting the 2004 North American County Board Playoffs, today through Sunday. "It's absolutely enormous that we're hosting this," says Gael Paul Kelly, a tournament co-organizer. "We're not Boston or Philadelphia, cities with large Irish populations, so we're elated to host."
The Labor Day weekend tournament is the largest Gaelic sporting event outside of Ireland and will draw over eighty adult and youth teams, both male and female, all competing for the coveted title of North American Champions in Football and Hurling, an award the Denver Gaels took home for Irish-rules football in 2000.
"This is a unique opportunity to see national sports from another country played at a highly competitive level," Kelly says.
The games take place at Pleasant View Soccer Facility, 3805 47th Street in Boulder, beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Friday and Sunday, and 8 a.m. on Saturday; food and drink vendors and live music will round out the daily competitions. For tickets, $20 for a weekend single pass/$30 for a family pass, go to www.denvergaels.com. -- Adam Cayton-Holland
The MotherLode lets viewers dig volleyball
When the U.S. men's team won its first Olympic volleyball gold medal in 1984, the often-overlooked sport suddenly became hot. Twelve years later, when the staid Olympics added raucous beach volleyball, the game caught fire once again. And with all the scantily clad players diving for gold in Greece this summer, it's not surprising that volleyball's popularity has erupted in volcanic fashion.
"It's red-hot now," says Leon Fell, a volleyball player turned promoter. And that makes the 32nd edition of the MotherLode Volleyball Classic, which starts today and runs through September 6 in Aspen, a molten core of the game. With some 700 teams competing in multiple contests on eighty courts, the gathering should be "the nation's largest volleyball party," Fell promises. Even better, it's free for spectators.
With the expected participation of some members of the U.S. men's volleyball team -- as well as appearances by other recent Olympians -- there will be lots to gawk at, and new heroes are likely to emerge. For the first time in the event's history, the national winner of the amateur division on grass (the "park" division) will be crowned in Aspen.
Fans who want to get close to the 110 mph shots or cat-quick saves will have plenty of opportunities this weekend. "You'll see things in a whole new light," Fell says. For more information, log on to www.motherlodevolleyball.com or call 1-888-290-1324. -- Ernie Tucker