How It All Began and the Successful Signature Event It Has Become
Nine years ago, on the pitch of a USASA Region III U-23 Men’s National Cup Qualifier in Murfreesboro TN, a chance meeting between NCASA Executive Director, Darius Ejlali, and Celebrate the Tatas Founder, Talia Goldman, set in motion, what would become NCASA’s annual women’s charity event: Celebrate the Tatas Tournament of Champions.
Darius Ejlali fondly recalls the lively first encounter with Goldman. “Talia’s son was playing for Charlotte United, and she wanted some answers about a match he was playing in. I responded that this was an adult tournament, and I interacted with the coaches, state reps or team managers. If she had questions, she would need to ask the coach. That didn’t sit well with Talia, and we had some spirited dialogue. Later, we ran into one another at the hotel and struck up a more casual conversation. Talia mentioned that she was the Founder of Celebrate the Tatas, a program that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for breast-cancer research.”
That interaction sparked an idea. During his nine-hour drive home from the qualifier, Ejlali thought about the meeting with Goldman and how they might collaborate. “This was a time when NCASA was ramping up efforts to engage our women athletes. The idea to hold a women’s soccer tournament and tie it to a cause for women, just seemed like a great idea. I called NCASA’s Women’s Commissioner, Alexandra Vidaurri and ran the idea by her, then called Talia, and we all LOVED the concept.” Ejlali brought the idea to NCASA former President, Bob Kepner, who along with the Board of Directors, enthusiastically supported the idea, and helped secure a USASA grant to assist with operational costs for the fledgling tournament.
When asked about the origin of Celebrate the Tatas, and joining forces with NCASA, Goldman stated, “I started this program with Hadassah, one the largest women’s volunteer organizations. Women volunteered to have their “tatas” painted by women artists. They were then photographed by women photographers and the pictures printed into a gorgeous poster. I partnered with the Ritz-Carlton, honored physicians, nurses, technicians, and partnered with the community and high-end restaurants. Posters were sold, auctions brought in money. In seven years, we raised half a million dollars.” She added, “Darius suggested we team up. NCASA would have an opportunity to showcase their female players, and at the same time raise money for a cause near and dear to everyone’s heart. And that, in a nutshell, is how it all began.”
Since 2014, the Celebrate the Tatas Tournament of Champions has raised over $80,000 for breast cancer causes. Last year, the event raised over $40,000. Proceeds were equally divided between two hospitals; the Levine Cancer Institute and Novant Health Cancer Center to provide free mammograms for uninsured and under-insured women in the Charlotte metro area.
Each year, NCASA’s tournament committee works hard to raise as much money as possible for breast cancer causes, while creating a fun and festive weekend for teams. “The event has taken on a life of its own. Celebrate the Tatas Tournament of Champions has become a celebration of play and giving, not to mention a lot of fun.” Ejlali said.
Upbeat music is piped onto the fields, and bright-colored jerseys printed with cheeky team names like, Cleats and Cleavage and Boo Bee Ballers flood the field with color and humor. From casual players to top competitors from around the state, the tournament offers playing opportunities for every woman soccer player. This year, 16 teams are expected to register to play.
Thanks to donations, players are treated to bagels, energy bars, fruit, drinks, and a catered lunch on both tournament days. Players receive a commemorative tournament t-shirt.
Personal trainers donate their time to help with minor injuries and aching muscles. Medical experts and sports leaders speak at the event. Health vendors set up booths, hand out swag, and a mobile mammogram unit is invited. Plus, NCASA hosts a celebration dinner and fundraiser raffle on Saturday night. After a long day of games, players can relax, enjoy a beverage, eat a good meal, and win great prizes!
Women’s Commissioner, Alexandra Vidaurri spoke to the success of the annual tournament and fundraiser. “Celebrate the Tatas is a special event for so many reasons, but what feels the most important to me is that we are an all-women’s event that relies heavily on the generous support from community members, donors, and players.”
Nine years after Ejlali and Goldman’s chance meeting, their inspired collaboration has evolved into a hugely popular and successful annual event. The social atmosphere: the quality of play, and the overarching spirit of sisterhood and charity are the connective tissue that make this tournament work year after year.
The star of the annual event, however, is the continued generosity of the donors, sponsors, guest speakers, volunteers, players, and their families, who give their time, money, and energy for one special weekend in October each year.
Celebrate the Tatas Tournament of Champions teaches us that within community lies power. Women athletes come together to play the sport they love and to take action against a deadly disease. In the end, this is a special and important event honoring those lives that have been lost to breast cancer, while celebrating life and the survivors that walk among us.
Your support and contributions save lives.
To Donate: Text TATAS22 to 44-321