Sports Facilities

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Southeast Regional Focus

30 Jun, 2009

By: Amy Henderson

The southeast is not only known for its role in our nation's history, but also for some of the most notable rivalries in college sports.

The fall football season wouldn't be complete without the battle between Southeastern Conference rivals Auburn and Alabama in the Iron Bowl. March Madness would be flat-out boring without the University of North Carolina and Duke University clashing for the ACC Men's Basketball title and ultimately the Final Four Championship and Kentucky taking on Louisville in the Battle for Bluegrass. Rest assured, college pride runs deep in the land of cotton.

Some of sports most notable athletes in history have also played in the southeast. Michael Jordan hit the hardwood in Chapel Hill, Bo Jackson dazzled at Auburn University and Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant became legendary at the University of Alabama. Peyton and Eli's dad, Archie Manning, gained fame at Ole Miss before his own NFL career and Herschel Walker walked away with the Heisman Trophy at the University of Georgia.

Yes, sports are a way of life in the southeast, but this area provides far more than great athletes and rivalries.

Fields and Streams
Some of the finest sports facilities are located throughout the southeast. With an abundance of notable universities, professional sports arenas, and multi-use outdoor facilities being developed annually, even the pickiest event planner would be hard pressed not to locate the perfect venue for their event.

North Little Rock, Arkansas has been called the 'Sports and Entertainment Capital of Arkansas' due in large part to the top rated facilities in the area. Burns Park is a 1600-acre park that provides ample fields for tournaments and has hosted the Youth National Soccer Tournament.

"We have some of the best soccer fields in the country,"said Shannon Harris, sports marketing representative with the North Little Rock Visitors Bureau. "The facilities are a driving force for us. We are opening a new baseball complex in the fall at Burns Park with five fields and two additional fields scheduled to open in 2010."

The same can be said for Decatur, Alabama with the 'Taj Mahal' of soccer. The Jack Allen Recreation Complex is a state-of-the-art facility with 11 laser-graded fields encompassing 27 acres. The facility has been compared to Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida for its forward thinking technology - computerized irrigation, sub-drainage, wireless public address system and wireless scoreboards.

"We have become the soccer mecca (of the southeast)," said Tami Reist, president of the Decatur Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Some of the things we have done are different and it's a lot of work, but it's worth it."

The United States Youth Soccer Association Region 3 will host the 2011 President's Cup in Decatur with 120 teams and approximately 2,400 participants encompassing 11 states. Southeast College Soccer Showcase, the Olympic Development Program and the Alabama Youth Soccer Association State and Governor's Cups will also be held in Decatur.

But what if you're looking for a non-traditional sports venue? The southeast has that too. Lake Jordan and the Alabama River in Montgomery, Alabama will act as host to the 2009 Toyota Truck Bassmaster Championship Week in September. "Bass fishing tournaments have a following like NASCAR," said Jo Jo Perry, director of Group Sales with the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce. "There are only 12 anglers, but 3,000 to 4,000 fans. We feel like this will be a gateway for us and open the door for some other bass tournaments and water sports tournaments to come into the area."

In addition to the elite bassmaster event, Montgomery is hosting the Tunnel Thunder Boat Races, with 60 racing boats and approximately 10,000 spectators in July.

Knoxville, Tennessee is experiencing the same success with water sports tournaments. They will be hosting the MasterCraft Pro Wakeboard Tour in June with 1,000 visitors resulting in over 2 million dollars in economic impact for the area.

"Knoxville has hosted just about everything," Jennifer Morris with the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp. said. "We've hosted Junior Olympics, United States Bowling Congress National Championships and the upcoming World Cup Bull Riding Championships in August. Our facilities are so flexible and able to accommodate large numbers of people."

Using Your Natural Resources
With the growing awareness for the environment and our carbon footprints, athletics are not immune to the growing trend to reduce, reuse and recycle. This way of life has become apparent in Highlands County, Florida. Located in the center of the state and one 1.5 hours away from either coast, Highland County is keeping it simple.

"When you think of the state of Florida, certain things come to mind - the beach, Orlando and the bigger cities," said John Scherlacher of the Highlands County Tourist Development. "We are considered the authentic Florida. Our pace is slower, there is less traffic and the region is dotted with freshwater lakes. We are a bass fishing paradise."

An up-and-coming facility is the Highland County Family BMX Park. "It's considered one of the best parks in the southeast," said Scherlacher. The park is built on an old landfill and was reconstructed into a first class facility.

In 2010, Highlands County will once again host America's oldest road race, the 58th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring, an endurance race within the American LeMans Series.

"A large part of the track is on the runways at the airport," said Scherlacher. "We are utilizing an existing structure and making it a usable venue. We use what we have so that we can keep the natural and authentic Florida feel."

Southern Hospitality
There are several assets that the southeast region provides to sports event planners besides excellent venues. Ideal weather conditions, smart partnership, great values and accessible locations to name a few.

Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina will act as host for the United States Disc Golf Championship for the 10th consecutive year in October.

"It's a premier course and very scenic," said Robert Thomas of the Rock Hill Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The event is sponsored by Innova Disc Golf and (held) right there in their back yard."

One of the main reasons the event continues to choose Winthrop University is not only its course, but its location. "We are easily accessible," Thomas said. "We have easy access from Charlotte. Being next door to a large city is a big plus for us. (It allows) us to focus on our attention to the details and helps us roll out the red carpet for the smaller groups."

The same can be said for Montgomery, Alabama, "We are centrally located in the southeast and we are a very good value," said Perry. "We are a second tier city and moderately priced."

Partnering with regional and state tourism organizations has proven beneficial throughout the southeast. Partnerships are popping up all over the southeast - the Arkansas River Cities Sports Commission, Alabama's Association of CVB's, Florida's Freshwater Frontier and the North Carolina Commerce Department has a division dedicated to promoting sports in the state. Some excellent resources can be tracked down by utilizing these organizations.

So Much to do, So Little Time
History has written much of the south's story and the historical attractions are a big draw for sports event planners, "We're the birthplace of the civil war," said Perry. "And the birthplace of civil rights. There is a lot to do for the delegates and their families during down time."

"Area attractions are a big help," added Thomas. "Historic Brattonsville plantation, Narroway Productions and Paramount Carowinds Theme Park are right down the road." The NASCAR Hall of Fame is scheduled to open in 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

North Little Rock has undergone a revitalization of their downtown with great results. North Little Rock will host the American Taekwondo Association World Championships in June.

"Their headquarters have been here for 30 years and opening ceremonies are at Alltel Arena," said Harris. "They love the area, the attractions and restaurants that we have to offer. I think some people are surprised when they get here, but it's a great place to hold tournaments."

With all that the southeast has to offer from top notch facilities, natural resources, affordable accommodations to that down-home southern hospitality, this region is a must see for any sports event planner.

About the Author

Amy Henderson

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