The Midwest Youth and Sports Board hosted its annual Midwest Regional Sports Tournament at the Libertyville Sports Complex on Saturday, November 24. Shaifali Lalani, Co-Project Manager of this year’s tournament, said she was most excited about the number of athletes this year. “We had originally planned for 100 to 150 at most, given the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We ended up doubling that with over 300 participants!” Additionally, over 100 volunteers and 300 spectators were in attendance making it one of the largest regional sports tournaments held in the region.

In keeping with 2018’s theme of “The Year of the Woman,” the Midwest saw a surge in female participation at this year’s tournament. Historically, women made up about 24 percent of athletes at this tournament. This year, that number jumped up to 41 percent, a contributing factor of the strong participation numbers.

Five, all-female teams comprised of all first-time participants, competed in throwball. One of these women, Sheila Lakhani, remarked, “I had a great experience. Our team consisted of 21 ladies, none of whom I had personally interacted with before, and I made some great friendships out of this.” Would she participate in a tournament like this in the future? “Absolutely!” she replied.

Additional changes to the tournament including draft style Volleyball, an amateur division within table tennis, and three months’ worth of pre-tournament Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board coaching for Under 16 Basketball, also allowed for a new and diverse group of athletes to join in the competition.

A record number of families competed together with individual family members playing different sports. The Arifs were one of those families. “Today, all members of my family played. My sister played basketball, my mom played throwball and my dad played volleyball against me…so that was interesting!” said Fatima Arif, age 24. “I beat my dad! He had a lot of fun from what he told me!” This was Fatima’s first time playing at an Ismaili tournament. She and her volleyball team took home the silver medal.

Off the court, athletes, spectators, and volunteers had an opportunity to serve the local community. I-CERV (Ismailis Engaged in Responsible Volunteering) hosted its first ever ‘Wrap-A-Thon’ in which members of the Midwest Jamat wrapped new, donated toys. Altogether, the community was able to wrap over 150 new toys to be distributed to various organizations that work with children locally.

Capping off the list of firsts for this year’s tournament was the group that put the event together. Nearly every single member of the Midwest Regional Sports Tournament project team was a youth under the age of 30. “The leads of this project were all very young. It was the first time a group this young led a project that was so big in size and scope. What a great opportunity for our young Jamati members to help organize an event that not only helps their personal growth but also their professional growth,” reflected Shaifali Lalani. “I am so proud to be part of this team, and I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

This project team and tournament set the stage for 2019's highly anticipated Midwest Regional Sports Tournament, which possibly will become the first step toward qualifying for the next international Jubilee Games.