A nine-minute walk by way of Clinton Street is all that separates Hartwick College from the State University of New York at Oneonta. On one side of Clinton sit the campuses; on the other is the town itself, known as the “City of Hills” and home to 14,000 residents.
And each fall for the past four decades, the city and its collegiate communities have been welcomed together by, of all things, a soccer tournament. The Oneonta Mayor’s Cup claims billing as the longest-running Division I regular-season soccer tournament. Created as a way to integrate the town’s divergent populations, it has been co-hosted by the two schools annually since September 1976 and is a celebration of each new academic year.
Buoyed by the sport’s national rise in popularity and the success of Hartwick, that first year more than 4,000 fans crowded into Damaschke Field, site of the town’s minor league baseball team, to watch the round-robin tournament. Hartwick defeated Southern Illinois University Edwardsville 2-1 for the inaugural title.
The Mayor’s Cup has since expanded into a multidivision tournament covering three days and attracting national powerhouses. Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta co-host games for Division I men’s and Division III men’s and women’s teams. The games are free to the public.
Only a handful of existing soccer tournaments predate the Mayor’s Cup, including the 101-year-old Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup; the James P. McGuire Cup, the U.S. Youth Boys U19 National Championship that began in 1935; and the NCAA National Collegiate Soccer Championship, which began in 1959 and is the forebear of the NCAA men’s soccer national championships.
It’s no surprise that the Mayor’s Cup has survived the test of time in the region. After Hartwick won the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship in 1977, Oneonta dubbed itself as “Soccertown, U.S.A.” Two years later, the National Soccer Hall of Fame was constructed in the city.
Hartwick fields a Division I men’s soccer team and established its dominance in the 1970s and 1980s. Meanwhile, SUNY Oneonta, now a Division III member, tends to be the underdog but is on an upswing. SUNY Oneonta didn’t claim its first Mayor’s Cup victory against its cross-street rivals until 1999, and the second arrived in 2014.
The elation of that season-opening victory propelled SUNY Oneonta through last season undefeated until their season ended with a double-overtime loss in the NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer National Championship Semifinals.
“For us,” said Hartwick Assistant Athletics Director Chris Gondek, “it’s the Mayor’s Cup and the NCAA title, then everything else.”