Conway, Arkansas, Is Hopping with Sports – Even Toad Racing
27 Jun, 2019By: Judy Leand
Located just 30 miles north of Little Rock, Arkansas, on I-40, Conway continues to be one of the top five fastest-growing cities in the state and is a magnet for a variety of sporting events, boasting first-rate indoor and outdoor facilities, many local amenities and great weather. The city, which blends the modern conveniences of a metropolis with a charming, small-town feel, has a population of about 60,000, with a median age of 27.3.
Nearly 40 percent of Conway’s residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, which isn’t surprising, given that the locale is also known as the “City of Colleges,” home to the University of Central Arkansas, Central Baptist College and Hendrix College. The schools help give the city a lively, youth-oriented vibe, and the sports facilities — those owned by the colleges as well as those run by the Conway Parks & Recreation Department — are well-suited to young athletes and their families and reinforce Conway’s reputation as a sports town.
“Conway is constantly growing,” says Rachel Shaw, the director of destination marketing for the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We hosted well over 60 youth and college sporting events in 2018, not including regularly scheduled events from our three colleges. Our new tennis center also just opened in April 2018.” She also points out that Conway will partner with all three schools whenever an event calls for it.
Venues for All Events
The city-owned sports parks include the Centennial Soccer Park, the Don Owen Complex, the McGee Center and the new Conway Tennis Center. There is also an Expo Center that has 6,222 square feet of indoor meeting space and an open-air pavilion with 55,000 square feet of space, complete with power and water. Other facilities include disc golf and the Conway Skate Park.
Because Conway believes so strongly in the benefits of having excellent sports facilities, a part of the hotel and restaurant tax is earmarked for the city’s Parks & Recreation department for the purpose of building new venues.
Shaw notes that with the combination of college-owned and city-operated facilities, Conway is able to accommodate thousands of participants and spectators every year for a breadth of sports activities ranging from baseball and softball to soccer, volleyball, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, cheer, dance, gymnastics and more.
For example, she explains, “We host lots of volleyball tournaments, including the Nike Fatchmo Volley Invitational [held at the Don Owen Sports Complex, the McGee Center and Hendrix College], and Conway Junior Volleyball events including the Conway Classic Blast.” Fatchmo is a girls’ volleyball league that offers teams and competition for all levels, from local/developmental programs to elite national travel teams, and the Nike Fatchmo Volley Invitational is the organization’s central competition each year.
Centennial Soccer Park
Soccer is hugely popular in Conway, and the Centennial Soccer Park is at the heart of the action. Home to the Conway Rush Soccer Club and the Central Baptist College Mustangs, the facility is a 51.5-acre complex that offers 10 full-size fields and two U10 fields, four of which are lighted. The site also includes a concession stand, paved parking with easy access, a coach/referee room, air-conditioned bathrooms and office space/party rooms. The facility accommodates a variety of local and college teams, clubs and leagues. For the past three years, the facility has hosted the 3v3 Live Regional youth tournament, which last year drew 90 teams.
Don Owen Sports Complex
The Don Owen Sports Complex is a multi-purpose facility that covers 125 acres. It consists of the Conway Sports Center, six tee-ball fields, three lighted adult softball fields, Conway’s Dog Park, restrooms and two concession areas.
The Conway Sports Center, a 44,000- square-foot indoor facility, provides three basketball courts, six volleyball courts, four racquetball courts, a 1/8-mile three-lane walking track and a large meeting room that can hold up to 100 people. It can accommodate three basketball courts or six volleyball courts simultaneously.
The complex also houses the Faulkner Country Rodeo Arena, complete with a large rodeo arena, a large and a small barn, a corral area, two announcer stands, restrooms and a concession area. There are pavilions and playgrounds on-site too — perfect for families who are attending events with young athletes (and even their siblings). Adding to the convenience are five large parking lots located throughout the park.
For families attending sporting events, the Don Owens Sports Complex is conveniently located near Conway’s major hotel corridor as well as the city’s Lewis Crossing Shopping Center that offers a range of shopping, dining and entertainment choices.
This 46,600-square-foot facility is situated on 11 acres and has three basketball courts, six volleyball courts, a walking track, and large and small meeting rooms. Adjacent to the McGee Center is the Conway Skate Park, complete with a variety of ramps, grinds and half pipes for skateboarders and inline skaters.
Conway Tennis Center
This facility, which opened last year, provides eight lighted outdoor hard courts and indoor/outdoor spectator viewing areas. Here, the Conway Area Tennis Association hosts a variety of club and league events as well as tournaments such as the USTA-sanctioned Conway Tennis Classic and the High School 3A Fall Junior Championships. Other tennis programs, such as junior and adult lessons and clinics, are also offered.
Toad Suck Daze
Off the fields and courts, one of the biggest draws in Conway is the annual Toad Suck Daze, Arkansas’ largest free family festival that just celebrated its 35th year. The three-day extravaganza, which spans eight blocks in downtown Conway, attracts more than 100,000 attendees of all ages during the first weekend of May, and features national and local musical entertainment, food, retail and arts-and-crafts vendors, kids’ activities and, most notably, the World Championship Toad Races.
So where did the “Toad Suck” name come from? As legend has it, long ago steamboats traveled the Arkansas River when the water was at the right depth. When it wasn’t, the captains and crew tied up to wait where the Toad Suck Lock and Dam now spans the river. While they waited they visited a local tavern, prompting the folks living nearby to exclaim, “They suck on the bottle ’til they swell up like toads.”
“Toad Suck Daze is a really fun, huge festival and yes, kids race toads and people come from all over to watch,” says Shaw. The event also helps the local community and has contributed more than $1.8 million to scholarships, scholarship endowments, preschool funding and arts education.
The Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a variety of services to help organizers run successful events, including assistance in finding accommodations, transportation, volunteers and more. The bureau can also connect event planners with local businesses for sponsorship opportunities, and has funds available to help with advertising and promotion.
“In addition to our phenomenal sports venues, Conway has more than 1,400 hotel rooms and 200 restaurants of all types,” says Shaw. “Visitors will also find a thriving downtown with boutique shopping, antique stores, local eateries and plenty of entertainment options.”
With 11 parks, two lakes, art galleries and a community theater, there are always fun and interesting things to do to occupy athletes, friends and families when the competitions are over. And of course, the many sports facilities continue to attract organizers who are seeking a welcoming home for their tournaments and events. Shaw adds, “It’s all about offering a great experience, and we can provide a special environment that’s great for sports events.” SDM