Hundreds of people crisscrossed the damp grounds of the Liberty Memorial on Saturday, some to learn more about the Great War and others to celebrate a legendary pause in that deadly conflict.
Nearly 170 Kansas City soccer players took part in a “truce tournament” on the grounds of the memorial. The event celebrates the day, now more than a century ago, when weary World War I troops stopped shooting at each other long enough to exchange holiday greetings, trade food and play a friendly soccer match in the no-man’s land between the trenches.
Saturday marked the third year for the Christmas season event. Inside the National World War I Museum, TV sets were tuned to English Premier League games also commemorating the truce.
“It’s become a real soccer tradition in Kansas City,” said Ian Mohrmann of the Soccer Lot, one of the organizers. “It’s a great vibe. It’s a wonderful event.”
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Although the soccer balls resembled those used in 1914, the doughboys of that era would have scarcely recognized the game play. The 3-on-3 tournament is played without goalies, on a much smaller field. And the goals are smaller, about 4 feet wide.
It’s fast and fun. “We had a really great time,” said Eric Hanks of Lenexa. “There was a great atmosphere, and the teams were pretty competitive.”
Hanks and his teammates planned to take in the museum following the competition. It was a popular choice — the facility was packed most of the day, with soccer fans and other visitors strolling through the museum’s vast collection of World War I artifacts.
“The boys enjoyed the tanks and the guns and the knives, all that,” Kate Burris of Greenville, S.C., said after touring the museum with her family.
In October, the museum broke its annual attendance record of 175,000 visitors. Museum officials think attendance will continue to grow as the nation approaches the 2017 centennial of U.S. involvement in World War I.
But events like the truce tournament play a role, too. The event gives families a reason to revisit the memorial, and tell their friends about it.
“It brings a new group, who may not be aware of what we have here,” said Paige Perlik, a spokeswoman for the museum. “It’s an exciting time.”
Kim Green of Lawson, Mo., came to the tournament to watch her son play. She planned to visit the museum when his game ended.
“He told me (how) the troops took a break,” she said from the sidelines, “and played a soccer game, and sang Christmas carols during the war. Pretty neat.”