Freeport High School celebrates an overtime shootout win over Mt. Blue in the semifinals at the Western Mountain 7×7 Soccer Classic in 2018 in Strong. (Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal)

For the past 10 years, the population of Strong suddenly swells at the end of July and something rarely happens — traffic appears.

Recreational vehicles (RVs), campers and 48 high school soccer teams from around the Pine Tree State are about descend on Mt. Abram High School for the 2019 Western Mountain 7v7 Soccer Classic, starting Friday, July 26. 

Family, friends and athletes will camp out under the evening skies when girls and boys soccer teams compete on Mt. Abram’s four soccer fields for a title — and a lot of summer fun — with plenty of food against the backdrop of a huge mountain. Fans are treated to soccer games that run until 10 p.m.

“It is a tournament-style event,” Mt. Abram boys’ soccer coach Darren Allen, who is running the show along with his wife, Angel, said. “We kind of have it set up like the World Cup. Everybody gets five games.”

Mt. Abram track coach Jim Danala also lends a helping hand to get the event up and and running each July.

Marc Keller, who is the current Spruce Mountain High School athletic director and a former Mt. Abram girls soccer coach, began the soccer venture 11 years ago — and the event has continued to blossom over time.

“I think it is awesome,” Keller said. “It is a lot of fun — kids from all over the state. When I got done with it, we had 40 teams. We had a girls and a boys tournament, and we had waiting lists almost every year.

“The reason why I started it is because your traditional 11-versus-11, for a small school like Mt. Abram is tough to do because you don’t have that many kids who can commit in the summer. I said why don’t we try this seven-versus-seven, a lot less kids, a lot less commitment, something fun to do at our place and see what we can get going,  and here it is.”

More information can be found on the event’s website, which also includes countdown clock to the start of the tournament.

“It is the countdown to extinction, as I call it,” Allen said with laugh.

But a sense of humor is just what the Allens need after piecing together the entire event since February. The couple put in over 100 hours of their time to make the tournament come to fruition.

“It has grown a lot and we still have a couple of teams on the waiting list,” Allen said. “It’s fun to watch. Families get to camp out over night. People come from far away and there are tents everywhere. A lot of folks use (the event) as a vacation.”

Allen said that he opened up the event to 48 teams and tries to pair teams with same level of ability to avoid lopsided scores, even though that still happens sometimes. The cash is used to fund soccer programs.

“Pray for good weather because we had two massive thunder showers Friday night and Saturday night (last year),” Allen said. “Literally, tents were blowing away. It was horrendous.

“I remember the Freeport coach saying, ‘We have seen thunder showers before.’ I turned to him said, ‘When that thing comes over the mountain, you got five minutes to get out of here.’ They ended up going to Sugarloaf and staying in a condo afterward. The tents were just destroyed.”

The event still triggers fond memories when past participants see one of the tournament’s T-shirts being worn.

“My wife mentioned that we went to credit union in  Farmington,” Allen said. “(Someone saw that) my son was wearing one of the shirts we sell. She was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I played in that when I was in high school. That was such an awesome time.’ So you get that a lot.”