25th annual USA Cup

Paul Erickson and Kris Bjerkness honored

By Leslee Lane Hoyum

For Norwegian American Weekly

Norwegian teams led the parade of 13,000 soccer players at opening ceremonies at the USA Cup. Photo: Arne Morkemo

Norwegian teams led the parade of 13,000 soccer players at opening ceremonies at the USA Cup. Photo: Arne Morkemo

Since Sons of Norway (SON) founded the USA Soccer Cup in 1985, it continues to pay tribute to individuals responsible for its ongoing success. This year, Paul Erickson and Kris Bjerkness received the prestigious Founders’ Award. Each was involved in a leadership position during the tournament’s formation and has continued to be involved through its 25 years.

Paul Erickson says the event literally evolved from a conversation with Ivar Sorensen when Erickson was the Sons of Norway fraternal director. Sorensen was seeking support from the SON to support a Minnesota youth soccer team hoping to attend the Norway Cup in Oslo. “By the time Ivar left my office we decided to organize a similar competition in Minnesota, the USA Cup,” chuckled Erickson.

“Actually, this was an unusual concept in the early 1980s,” said Erickson, “since soccer was not exactly a ‘hot’ sport in the Midwest. However, we were a ‘hotbed’ of Norwegians. We were determined to make the USA Cup the nation’s largest youth soccer tournament, which it is.

Kris Bjerkness, Linda Nelson, Paul Erickson, Ingeborg and Ivar Sorensen. Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum

Kris Bjerkness, Linda Nelson, Paul Erickson, Ingeborg and Ivar Sorensen. Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum

“Back in ‘85, Kris Bjerkness was an intern at Sons of Norway and was invaluable to all of us in making the tournament work,” continued Erickson. “Along with many SON volunteers, we relied on the Ekeberg-Bekkelaget soccer experts with their vast experience through the Norway Cup matches, most of which are played at Ekeberg. Their assistance was significant in our planning efforts.”

In 1985, the USA Cup was born. Sixty-five teams, including 11 Norwegian teams and teams from Germany, Mexico and the United States, kicked it off. Now the tournament attracts 850 to 1,000 teams from around the world.

Interest in the USA Cup and the potential for other national and international sporting events did not go unnoticed by the State of Minnesota, which used state funds to build the National Sports Center. It includes 52 soccer fields, as well as other venues for a variety of sports. The facility’s ongoing support, however, is provided by a non-profit corporation, the National Sports Center Foundation.

Currently, Erickson is the executive director of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, St. Paul, Minn., and Bjerkness is the executive director of the National Sports Center, Blaine, Minn., where the USA Cup is played. Today’s major USA Cup sponsor is The Schwan Food Company, which is headquartered in Marshall, Minn.

For more information, visit online at  www.usacup.com.

This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly on Sept. 4, 2009. For more information about the Weekly, call us at (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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