BENNINGTON — This weekend's Blue Lollipop Road Play It Forward alumni event has a bit of a mystery attached.
Work has been ongoing for the last few weeks on some type of permanent structure that will be revealed on Saturday just before the alumni game, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Lower Willow Park.
"It's going to be top-secret until the reveal, only a few people have any idea," said BLR founder and event organizer Diane Peacock. "We wanted to make sure we had a permanant structure as a give back to the town as a whole. [The event's] grown into much more of a community event, not just soccer specific. It's been great that we've gotten people who have nothing to do with soccer that come back and bring kids and families, we want everyone to come out."
This is the sixth year of the event and quite possibly the final one as it's currently being done. At that end, pre-registration is at its highest levels.
"Numbers are better than ever. We said play now or forever hold your cleats, because we dont know what will happen year to year, so we wanted as many people to come as possible," Peacock said. "We might change things up, might skip a year, who knows. This is the last one as it's been for now, but it could be reincarnated with different tweaks and stuff. We're not sure yet."
The event is the brainchild of Peacock, a 1994 Mount Anthony graduate who was a member of the Patriots' soccer team. A pair of her teammates, Maria Greene and Brandy Brown, died in a car accident, leaving a void that remains more than two decades later. PIF is meant to memorialize the two and family members come every year to the event.
"PIF is continuing in the BLR world, I would love to do something where I live in North Carolina," said Peacock, who makes her home in Charlotte. "As life and time and age changes, people come and people leave. There's always a core group of people that are here."
This year, Peacock said she got a call from another alum who is trying to get a handful of the girls in the MAU program now to attend.
"If they didn't know Maria or Brandy or have a specific connection, they might not understand," Peacock said. "It's a little harder to get the younger generation to participate."
The alumni game is just one of three events as part of the weekend. On Friday night, Ramunto's will host a Welcome Back night for families to come and reconnect with old friends they might not have seen in years. The game will be at 2 p.m. and then on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., there will be another night to reconnect at Pangaea Restaurant, for adults only.
"I encourage people to come out to any of the events," Peacock said.
Even more local support has come out this year. Along with some of the local businesses, Home Depot donated the materials for the top-secret project, as did Curtis Lumber and Mahar's, just to name a few.
"They said they'd read about the event in the paper and wanted to help us out," Peacock said.
There are people traveling from across the country to come to Vermont and Bennington for the event. The farthest away this year is Idaho, but in the past, attendees have come in from Alaska. One person was planning on road-tripping from Oregon but was unable to do it at the last minute.
"Soccer has always been the driving force behind this, it's a very small world," Peacock said. "I say that soccer in Vermont is like Texas football, it's always a big deal and it was our whole life and passion, our whole world back then. Those are some of my best memories growing up."
Peacock said that despite the changes to the event in Vermont, there will be a continuation in some other way.
"We've put happy blood, sweat and tears into this, it's been super fun but hard too," Peacock said. "My whole goal is to bring people together, take people out of their comfort zone and teach them about themselves. That is BLR's message in the first place. One of our mottos is Remember, Celebrate, Live: Remember where you came from, celebrate the memories you have and live like today is the day. Don't wait to do what you love."