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Rolla, Missouri: Small Town Charm, Big-Time Sports

13 Nov, 2013

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

When a team is ‘on the bubble, it’s on the verge of taking the next big step, such as with teams poised to enter playoffs or with individual athletes about to break into the spotlight.

Rolla, Missouri, is on the bubble as well: on the verge of leaving behind its former identity as the best-kept-secret in sports event planning.

“Rolla is right on the cusp of breaking out,” says Scott Caron, Rolla’s director of Parks & Recreation. “One of the primary reasons for that is we’re a relatively small town, but we provide everything a family could want during their stay with us.”

Accordingly, youth sports are the focus of Rolla’s efforts. The city extends a warm welcome to teams and athletes from across the United States and makes them feel valued and appreciated.

“We have big city amenities with small town hospitality,” says Aimee Campbell, tourism director for the Rolla Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center. “We just love it when sports events come into town, and we make a big deal over them.”

But make no mistake: Rolla, population 20,000, has big time abilities. Its facilities, infrastructure and amenities will wow any sports event planner, no matter how experienced.

Facilities? Advantage: Rolla

Rolla is rich in park facilities. In fact, the city’s website, www.rollacity.org, lists a total of 25 parks ranging from undeveloped green space to complete recreational areas with everything from sports fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, baseball and softball diamonds, picnic shelters, sand volleyball courts and historical sites. The city also maintains an agreement that allows its guests to access other facilities upon availability.

“We have a great relationship with the local school district and the local university,” Caron notes, “so if you’re looking for indoor gym space, for example, we have it.”

The Rolla Public School system includes seven facilities: three elementary schools, one middle school, one junior high school, one high school and one technical institute. The Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly the University of Missouri-Rolla, and before that, the Missouri School of Mines) has facilities for collegiate sports including baseball, basketball, track & field, cross country, soccer, softball, swimming and volleyball.

Another facility that is key to Rolla’s success is actually located in Ber Juan Park: the Rolla City Recreation Centre, known as the Centre to locals. The Centre features a spacious 13,000-square-foot gymnasium surrounded by a suspended walking/running track. Other features include flexible gym space that can be converted from two full-size basketball courts (with adjustable-height goals) to three full-size volleyball courts. The flooring is floating hardwood. There are also bleachers, scoreboards, mid-court dividers, water fountains, a fitness facility and storage space for sports bags, personal items, and equipment.

The Centre’s features don’t stop on dry land, however. The Kiwanis Natatorium offers an outstanding venue to planners of swimming and diving events, and runs community swim programs as well as water safety and lifeguarding programs throughout the year. In addition, SplashZone, Rolla's outdoor waterpark, includes child-friendly features, water slides, a ‘lazy river,’ inner-tube rental, umbrella tables, beach entry, sand play area, concession stand and more.

Fishing in Rolla

Rolla’s Parks & Recreation Department owns and operates two public access lakes for licensed fishing. Ber Juan Lake is located behind the Centre and was stocked in 2001 with catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill and hybrid bluegill. Schuman Lake has perch, bluegill and bass. (Note: During the winter months, park staff monitors both lakes daily for ice-skating conditions and measures the thickness of the ice for safety purposes).

Great Skateboarding

Another surprise Rolla has in store? Its skate park. One of the newest of Rolla's municipal facilities, the skate park was opened in the summer of 2002, and quickly became a favorite spot for skaters from all over Rolla. The park is located in Ber Juan Park and offers ramps and other challenging features.

Disc Golf: The Surprising New Sport

This fall, Rolla debuted disc golf as its newest park sport. Courses are available at the Lions Club Park as well as at Ber Juan Park, and tournaments and leagues are planned. There are no charges associated with playing and discs are available at the Parks & Recreation Department and at the Centre for public and visitor use.

Getting There

Rolla boasts air and highway access as well as a postcard-perfect location. Located in South Central Missouri at the junction of Interstate 44 and Hwy. 63, the city is situated in the picturesque 1.5-million-acre Mark Twain National Forest, midway between St. Louis and Springfield in the Meramec Valley Region. The closest airports are St. Louis, Columbia and Springfield, Missouri.

There is an abundance of accommodations as well. “We have 16 different properties,” says Aimee Campbell, “and that means everything from your hometown, locally-owned facilities to your national chains.”

In addition, Campbell notes, “our lodging properties are great to work with when it comes to sporting events.”

In fact, when an event makes arrangements to come to town, the Rolla Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center springs into action, notifying area accommodations of the incoming visitors. The properties, in return, offer special group rates which are noted by the chamber on a document created especially for the event organizers.

“We put them together in a nice .pdf flyer that can be sent out to the team and their staff,” notes Campbell. “The event organizer can also put it on their website for the event so that people can choose where they want to stay.”

Rolling Out the Welcome Mat

Campbell says her organization works to make each group feel welcome, distributing give-aways such as booklets of vouchers and coupons to area restaurants and attractions, and giving premiums such as Rolla water bottles and other merchandise for team managers and officials.

“We want people to feel welcome here,” she says. “We don’t want them walking around saying, ‘Where should we go to eat?’ or ‘What do you think there is to do around here?’”

“People expect a different experience from a small town,” says Caron, “and that’s what we’re giving them here.”

Rolla also offers a grant program to sports event organizers, something both Caron and Campbell say is invaluable. Organizers who bring events to Rolla can apply in advance for the grant, available in amounts up to $5,000 to help defray the costs of putting on the event. Funding is granted in reimbursement form.

“They can use the grant for whatever they want,” says Campbell, “whether it’s T-shirts, facility rental fees, you name it.” She is also able to help organizers find local vendors for any supplies they need, including trophies, shirts and more.

Plenty to Do

There are plenty of opportunities for family-friendly fun in Rolla. Caron notes that the university, in hearkening back to its mining past, has a demonstration mine on campus. The mine, now used as an educational lab, fascinates children of all ages. In addition, there are multiple entertainment complexes that feature everything from roller skating, glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, arcades, basketball and more. Rolla also has two golf courses, one at the university and one in a local country club.

A History of Hosting

The city has earned its burgeoning reputation as a sports town over the last few years, says Caron. The city recently hosted the 18 and Under ASA Girls Fast Pitch National Qualifier, which brought in 25 teams and a total of 300 athletes. The Licking Shootouts (named for the nearby town in which they originated) are a multi-week basketball tournament held each spring in Rolla and can bring in 500 participants at a time.

Bring It On

There are a lot of advantages to bringing your game to Rolla, and the city is ready to show them off.

“We’re interested in whatever type of event people are interested in bringing here,” says Caron. “We know they’ll love the experience.”

For information on all Rolla can offer, go to www.rollacity.org and to  www.visitrolla.com.

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