Conway, Arkansas: Play Smart
31 Mar, 2012By: Juli Anne Patty
Conway, Arkansas, is a city with a lot going for it. Just 30 minutes from Little Rock, rich with outdoor spaces recreation and populated by active young families, Conway is one of the fastest-growing cities in Arkansas. But recently, Conway also became an award-winning sports event destination as well. It’s time to take a closer look at the city that’s ready to make your next sports event a huge hit.
Natural Beauty, State-of-the-Art Facilities
Conway has long been a sports adventure destination. Home to scenic lakes and parks, Conway draws thousands of guests with its outstanding fishing, boating, hiking and swimming. Infused with an active spirit and a growing young population, Conway built a variety of parks and recreation centers for sports and recreational activities over the years, and its park system flourished. But not too long ago, city leaders took a look around and made a crucial discovery: the only thing preventing Conway from being one of America’s best sports destinations was a lack of places to play. That’s when they got to work.
Embarking on a plan that would meet a growing community need as well as provide a state-of-the-art experience for visiting tournaments, Conway constructed two new baseball and softball facilities in the past few years. In 2010, Conway unveiled City of Colleges Park, a five-field girls’ softball complex that immediately garnered attention, events and awards. The Arkansas Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA) named City of Colleges Park a 2010 Facility of the Year.
With one grand slam under its belt, Conway made another swing for the fences with Conway Station Park, a baseball/softball facility that offers nine fields, shaded stands, modern fencing and a large main building/concession area. Once again, the parks and rec experts of the state took notice, naming Conway Station Park a 2011 Facility of the Year. Sports event planners took notice as well.
In April 2011, Conway hosted the largest baseball tournament in the state’s history, the Centennial Bank Conway Classic. This USSSA baseball tournament took place at Conway Station and City of Colleges Park. The event drew 94 teams with players ages 7-14 from Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Don’t get the impression that baseball is the only game in town, though. Conway is rich with indoor facilities, as well, and has the tournament experience to prove it. Last July, HoopPlay USA brought a 200-team youth basketball tournament to town. To accommodate the three-day event, the community arranged for the use of more than 20 area courts.
In 2011, Conway also hosted a 123-team volleyball tournament organized by Fatchmo Volley, a Junior Olympic Volleyball Program for Central Arkansas’ most promising volleyball athletes. In April 2012, Conway welcomed the 2012 Delta Regional Championship for Girls ages 10 through 18. Like the organization’s 2011 tournament, the 2012 Delta Regional Championship took place in four venues: the HPER Center at University of Central Arkansas, McGee Center, Don Owens Center and the Grove Gymnasium at Hendrix College. It’s an event that highlights one of Conway’s biggest bonuses: great working relationships with not one, but three local colleges and universities.
Sports at Every Level
Youth sports are huge in Conway, but the city is also home to three institutions of higher learning: Central Baptist College, Hendrix College, and the University of Central Arkansas.
A Division I program, the University of Central Arkansas athletics program has facilities that have grown and prospered along with its successful sports teams. In recent years, UCA has experienced the most prodigious development of its athletic facilities in the 100-plus year history of the school, with nearly every facility receiving major upgrades. A new state-of-the-art strength and conditioning complex is scheduled for completion within the next year.
”One thing that we always hear from participants, planners and attendees is how nice Conway is and how hospitable the people here are. Conway has a friendly, fun atmosphere that people enjoy,” said Rachel Earls, director of destination marketing, Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Last summer when we held the HoopPlay USA tournament, it was really a group effort. Facilities from UCA, the city and some high schools were used for this event, which had more than 200 basketball teams from all over Arkansas and throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama. The event was such a success for the host that we are working on a plan to bring this same tournament to Conway for the next three years.”
Location is a key event planning factor and another area where Conway shines. Located right off I-40, Conway is not just easy to get to, but also easy to get around. Whenever you’re in Conway, you’re never more than five to ten minutes of anywhere you might like to go, including the city’s many parks, 23 hotels and nearly 200 dining options. The charming Southern downtown offers a number of unique local boutiques and restaurants, all of which are enthusiastic supporters of local tournaments.
You have to eat, sleep and play sports when you’re in town for a sports event, but you also need something fun to do when the game is won, and Conway has you covered. Conway is well-known for its outdoor recreation, including Chief Whitehorse's Trail Rides and Cadron Creek, a favorite central Arkansas float stream that can usually be floated December through June, winding through farmland, some surprising rapids, bluffs and canyon-like surroundings. But there’s plenty to occupy your indoor time, too, including The Baum Gallery of Fine Art and the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre at UCA.
Sports for All Seasons
Thanks to Conway’s natural beauty and outdoor reaction draw, as well as its award-winning facilities, spring and summer months are bustling with sports events, but the city is also enthusiastic about getting its game on all year long. With several exceptional indoor sports facilities, including those at its three collegiate partners, Conway is the perfect fit for indoor sports such as gymnastics and cheerleading.
Conway is all about team-playing, too, which is why the Conway CVB works to support visiting events in every way possible, including advertising and marketing events, helping organize volunteers and even providing grant money to start up events. For more information about creating your next big hit in Conway, visit www.conwayark.com.
Buzz Bolding Arena: Seating for 1,800, hosts basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, gymnastics
Cadron Settlement Park: 6 acres of cleared bike trail, ideal for mountain biking
City of Colleges Park: New in 2010, an award-winning, state-of-the-art softball facility, 5 lit 200-foot fields
Centennial Soccer Complex: 12 fields, four of which are lit.
Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds: Event center with 6,222 square feet of meeting space, 40,779-square-foot covered expo center, 55,000-square-foot open air pavilion
Conway Station Park: New in 2011, an award-winning baseball/softball facility with nine fields: eight 225-foot and one 300 x 305 x 300 feet
Don Owen Complex: Three basketball courts, three lit baseball (300-320-foot) fields, six volleyball courts and a walking track
Hendrix College facilities: Three basketball courts, 320-foot baseball field, 210-foot softball field, soccer field, lacrosse field, four volleyball courts, Olympic size swimming pool, track
Beaverfork Lake: 1,000-acre lake ideal for swimming, boating, jet-skiing and fishing. Hosts an annual sprint triathlon with 400+ participants.
Lake Conway: Largest man-made U.S. Game and Fishing Commission lake, 6,700 acres with bass, catfish, bream and crappie.
McGee Center: Three basketball and six volleyball courts as well as a walking track.
University of Central Arkansas facilities: Four basketball courts, new turf-field baseball facility, three soccer fields, four softball fields (three 300-foot, one 225-foot), five volleyball courts, heated swimming pool, and the Pepsi Center, an indoor facility with a turf field half the size of a football field.