One of the largest youth soccer tournaments in the world, the American Airlines Dallas Cup, is coming to Lake Highlands this month.

More than 5,000 soccer players will converge on the City and Lake Highlands April 4-11. Wildcat-Ram Stadium at Lake Highlands High School will be the flagship field for the tournament.

In all, 168 teams of boys and girls ages 12-19 will compete in 300 games at fields in Richardson, Plano and Garland. The teams will represent 23 American states and 23 foreign countries.

Opening and closing ceremonies for the Dallas Cup, to be held at Wildcat-Ram Stadium, are similar to those at the Olympics. Each team will march into the stadium, wearing costumes or uniforms representing their homelands.

“The Dallas Cup has a tremendous impact on the community, both financially and socially,” says Mardee Troup, tournament operations manager. She expects an overall attendance of 12,000.

Organizers plan numerous parties and social gatherings during the 10 days of the tournament. Many local families will also enjoy a more personal foreign exchange experience.

“Most of the players, coaches, referees and chaperones stay with host families who volunteer to open up their homes,” Troup says.

Troup says she, like many others, has housed the same visitor for several years, developing friendships that flourish year-round.

“I’ll never forget taking two of my guests, who are Romanian and Scottish, to the Highland Park Cafeteria,” she says.

“In the serving line, they became simply amazed at the abundant offerings, especially the fruit – something they were both deprived of in their homelands.”

The Dallas Cup needs volunteer hosts for referees. Call Susan Knabel at 343-9504 or Mardee Troup (who also has ticket information) at 387-4477.