With about 1,200 athletes (plus their families) in attendance, Foley, Alabama hosted a national archery event in late summer. And that event hit the mark – so much so that Foley was able to extend its hosting contract for another five years.
According to David Thompson, Director of Recreation and Tourism for Foley Sports Tourism, the event could not have come to town at a better time.
“It was very much needed, for sure,” he notes.
The reviews were uniformly positive, vendors were able to set up shop and hotels reaped the benefits of almost 1,000 room nights.
It also led to a five-year extension in a hosting agreement – something else that was a welcome development.
The event, the Easton & McKenzie ASA Classic and the finals, the Pro Shoot Down, were held between August 27 and August 30. The ASA Classic took place at the Graham Creek Nature Preserve, and the Pro Shoot Down was held at the Foley Event Center.
The ASA event had been transferred to Foley late in the game, noted Thompson.
“They were slated to go to another destination, a military base,” he said, “but with COVID restrictions, that couldn’t happen. We had more space, and we were able to accommodate them.”
August in Foley is warm, particularly for an outdoor event, but the competitors were glad competition was able to go forward. Archers were already familiar with the area since traditionally, the ASA kicks off its season with a February event in Foley; this event, the Hoyt ProAm, is on the calendar for 2021.
Multiple changes were made to keep athletes (who ranged in age from 14 to 70) and spectators safe, Thompson notes.
“It really made us look at all the things we do and think about how we could do them differently. Registration was all done online, and people wore masks when they came in.”
Social distancing regulations were followed, and other precautions were taken, following official guidance. The good news was that the ASA was already familiar with these protocols, having developed many of them.
Mike Tyrell, President of ASA said that since the pandemic they have held two other events- one in London, Kentucky, and one in Cullman, Alabama. These events helped them thoroughly develop the safety precautions that were in place in Foley. And while attendance was down from the 1,800-1,900 that is typical of the event (and didn’t include the contingent of international archers who normally made the trip to Foley), the event was no less successful – and athletes felt comfortable, knowing smart measures had been taken.
“We have a series of precautions that we take,” Tyrell explained. “This includes taking the temperature of everyone arriving for the event with non-contact thermometers, staggering competition times to lower the number of shooters on any range, mandatory masks in buildings and areas where social distancing can’t be maintained, and several other modifications to help address the need to keep our shooters as safe as possible.”
The Pro Shoot Down event, held at the Foley Event Center, meanwhile, called for its own precautions.
“We socially distanced the competitors,” said Thompson. “Everyone that came into the building was asked the five standard COVID questions. They were required to wear masks unless they were actively competing.”
And whereas in years past, vendors had been located in the indoor space, they were moved outdoors for the 2020 event, with plenty of distance between exhibits.
Thompson said archers are unique, with males and females in multiple age groups often competing against one another – and an enormous fan contingent.
“The bleachers are usually packed,” he said, “and people really get along so well. It’s really a very family-oriented atmosphere.”
Maybe part of that is because Foley itself is unique.
“Everything we do in foley is about a partnership,” Thompson muses. “We have a great relationship with the ASA, the Grand Creek Nature Preserve, the Foley Event Center, really the entire city. We get great feedback from hotels and the retail community about it. It is a citywide effort and it takes folks from the fire, police and public works departments to make it all come together. There’s a lot of coordination involved but everyone just loves it. The people it brings in are good people to be around.”
Foley has become a magnet for archery events, with a collegiate competition and local events as well.
Having the archers come in August, he notes, was a hopeful sign.
“It was a great beginning of what I would call a return to normality. It was just great to get people into our hotels, restaurants and stores, and you couldn’t get a better group coming into town. They really are a joy to host.”