SALEM — Team bonding, preseason work and skills training are all integral parts of any summer soccer program, particularly as the weeks begin counting down to the Maine Principals’ Association’s official start of training camp.

At Mt. Abram High School this weekend, thunderstorms and black bears are also just as much a part of the summer ritual.

“We love it,” said Karen Magnusson, the assistant coach for the Maranacook girls soccer team. “We’ve done a lot of different camps, with basketball and soccer. We just did the (soccer) camp at Maine Maritime, and that’s totally different. It’s dorm life, showers and running water. This is tents and who’s setting up what where.

“It’s a completely different experience, but the girls love it.”

A total of 47 teams descended upon this little town off the beaten path this week for the annual Western Mountain Soccer Classic, a 7-vs-7 tournament with both boys and girls brackets. The girls tournament is Friday and Saturday, while the boys hit any of the four fields in use on campus on Saturday and Sunday.

The tournament began in 2007, when Marc Keller — who was the Mt. Abram girls soccer coach at the time — decided that getting a group of Roadrunners to head Downeast each summer for a few days to play a few games became increasingly difficult.

He had eight girls teams in that first tournament, and the next summer five of those girls teams decided to turn it into a summer camping trip of sorts.

“It was definitely a happy accident,” Keller said of the event’s growth over the years. “We’ve had teams from Madawaska, Stearns, places like that. I’m really happy that it’s still going on. There was no way it was going to just disappear, though, when I handed it off to (Darren Allen, the Mt. Abram boys coach). I knew it would get bigger and better with him.”

They’ve come from as far south as Gorham and as far north as Aroostook County this weekend. Central Maine United, a premier league team from the Waterville area, has a boys team and a girls team entered for the first time. Allen estimated that nearly 75 percent of all the teams participating camp out for the weekend, which makes the Western Mountain Soccer Classic about the most “Maine” of any high school sporting event in the state.

Not only are teams guaranteed to play five 30-minute games in a round-robin format before the playoff rounds, but they also pitch tents, park campers, enjoy spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts and dance to a local DJ providing nighttime entertainment in a rural setting.

That rural setting also leads to things like thunderstorms rolling over the hills — like the ones Friday and Saturday nights last year that everybody is still talking about.

“I really love it,” said Bella Marino, who graduated from Hall-Dale High School in June but wanted to play in this tournament one final time. “It’s going into the middle of nowhere with a whole bunch of people on your team and bonding. This is supposed to be fun right before the big final push of the preseason.

“Other than seeing your tent flying around and the rush of a sudden thunderstorm and trying to get all of your stuff before it gets soaked — when everything else is two hours away — it is.”

The Maranacook girls soccer team made its first trip to the tournament last summer, but that foul weather wasn’t enough to deter the Black Bears. More than 20 of them returned this year — as part of two separate teams entered — to enjoy the experience again.

The Black Bears aren’t the only black bears to have made appearances at the tournament.

One of the reasons cooking out is prohibited comes from the summer of 2014, when a bear den was located in the woods roughly 400 yards beyond one of the fields being used for game play.

Keller said he called a local game warden, who advised “spreading cayenne pepper around the perimeter.”

“It’s a 100-acre area and I’ve got 1,000 people here. How much cayenne pepper do you think that would take?” laughed Keller, who is now the girls coach at Spruce Mountain.

Keller reached out to the teams coming that weekend and offered them alternatives if they were not comfortable sleeping in tents given the recent developments. Testament to the team bonding aspect of the tournament, only two teams took him up on the offer to seek shelter elsewhere.

“We like the team building aspect of it, for sure,” said Hall-Dale girls coach Guy Cousins. “It’s setting up the tents and things, when they have to work together. And it’s usually hot, which might make a few people cranky. But you have to work through that, and if you can work through that you can work through anything.”

Even a couple of bears. Or a thunderstorm or two.

Travis Barrett — 207-621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

Travis Barrett — 207-621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC