ALVARADO — Starting off as a modest four-team gathering in its early days, Alvarado ISD’s McGrath Memorial Tournament has grown into quite the event and has become an anticipated varsity boys soccer showcase for many teams in the area.

This year’s McGrath Memorial Tournament is set for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It has grown from a small four-team field to a multi-site, 17-team, 34-match showcase, comprising teams from as far as away as Borger (376 miles away, or the combined width of Mississippi and Alabama). 

The competition this year is also fierce as 11 teams enter ranked regionally, including 4A state finalist Midlothian Heritage. The impetus for the tournament’s expansion, though, was borne from tragedy.

In September of 2015, Alvarado ISD lost one of its most beloved members, Kurt “Coach” McGrath, suddenly and unexpectedly. Out of that loss, the community pledged to bring honor to his legacy and recognize as well as possible the countless lives he had changed for the better during his life. One of the first decisions was to rename the annual soccer tournament. But it was not as straightforward as that, as Alvarado head boys soccer coach Israel Stephens explains.

“We had planned to scrap the varsity tournament and only host a junior varsity tournament,” Stephens said. “But [Alvarado head girls soccer coach Micah] Horner reminded us that [McGrath] might not appreciate that.” 

Capturing McGrath’s sardonic, deadpan humor, Horner said, “Don’t you think he would say, ‘You’re naming a JV tournament after me? Gee, what an honor.’”

“After that conversation, we knew we had to keep the varsity tournament and that we had to make it special,” Stephens said.

And so the work began. The tournament has grown each year since 2016 as almost all previous participants return with a couple of newcomers added yearly.

Joe Baffa, head boys soccer coach for Arlington Seguin, brings his team to the tournament annually now. Part of his decision comes from his wish to honor his former colleague with whom he spent nearly a decade with at Alvarado in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

“I could never sum [McGrath] up in one quote,” Baffa said. “He is simply one of greatest men that I have ever known. For the years we got to spend almost every day together in Alvarado, I had the honor of calling him one of my best friends. His humor, generosity, and most importantly, his integrity, were limitless.”

CaShan Clark, a former player under McGrath and current head boys soccer coach of 2018 state finalist Midlothian Heritage said McGrath left a lasting impression on him. “Part of the reason I coach is because of the impact [McGrath] had on my life,” Clark said.

“I still have the note [McGrath] wrote me after my first year as a head coach,” said Horner, who played soccer for McGrath at Alvarado from 1999-2002. “He said he was proud and that he was happy soccer was going to become special at Alvarado.” 

Horner credits McGrath for being her mentor her first few years in coaching and teaching, adding, “To me it is unique that he was one of my favorite coaches and then also became my mentor.”

Horner said honoring McGrath’s legacy drives her to succeed at Alvarado. 

“Every day that I get to work as a coach in Alvarado, I am just trying to make the program as special as he made it for my teammates and me,” she said. “I hope we are surpassing his expectations.”

That so many soccer coaches and supporters of Alvarado ISD have such a fond memory of McGrath is what drives Stephens to continue to grow the tournament.

“We want the tournament that bears his name to be a true credit to who coach McGrath was and the impact he had on so many lives,” Stephens said.

Alvarado ISD Superintendent Kenneth Estes said the impact McGrath had — continues to have — is immeasurable.

“Coach Kurth McGrath was a colleague, team member, fishing partner, and most importantly, he was my friend,” Estes said. “It would take an entire book to summarize the impact McGrath had on my life. I hope I am a better person, husband, dad, son, coach, and educator because of his influence. His character, leadership, and efforts continue to have a lasting impact on Alvarado ISD.”

Alvarado High School Principal Chris Magee shared similar thoughts on McGrath.

“We miss him every day,” Magee said. “There is no way to fill the hole he left. We just hope that we do what we can to honor the impact he had.”

Matches start at 11 a.m. Thursday morning at Charles Head Stadium and Alvarado High School, and will continue each day through Saturday.

Along with Alvarado, Borger, Arlington Seguin, and Midlothian Heritage, other notable programs set to compete in the McGrath Memorial Tournament this year include Aledo, Argyle, Fort Worth Arlington Heights, Waxahachie Life, Graham, Snyder, and Waco Connally, among others.

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