Top Sports Venues Highlight the City of Colleges
1 Jul, 2020By: Peter Francesconi
When it comes to sports, Conway, Arkansas has a lot to offer. From youth leagues to college athletics to adult tournaments, this city of 66,000 has top venues that fit all types of tournaments and events.
Conway’s Parks and Recreation Department oversees some of the nicest sports complexes in the state. In addition, the city has a great relationship with three colleges and their sports facilities. In fact, Conway is known as the “City of Colleges” for the educational institutions situated there—including the University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College.
“We have some great sports venues,” says Rachel Shaw, the executive director of the Conway Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus shutdowns, we haven’t been able to use them for much of the spring, but things are beginning to open up, and local activity is beginning to come back.” In fact, like many other cities and towns across the country, Conway has used the shutdown time to improve some of its facilities and to plan for when sports and tournaments can return safely.
Conway has typically had a very active baseball and softball business at its city-owned facilities. Earlier, the city had embarked on a refurbishment program by putting down turf on all its baseball and softball infields. That $500,000 investment will be completed in November, and the benefits for tournaments should be immediate.
“As tournaments come back into Conway, this will be great because the fields will be playable shortly after rain stops,” Shaw says. “With new drainage and the turf infields, players can get back on the field quickly after a rain. It will be awesome for next spring and summer seasons.”
Conway’s key baseball/softball facilities include Conway Station Park, one of the top complexes in the state, with nine lighted boys’ baseball fields. Eight of the fields, arranged in two pods of four diamonds each, offer a 225-foot fence, and one field has a 350-foot fence. A concession stand and restrooms are available.
The City of Colleges Park offers five lighted fields (with four diamonds in one pod) and is one of the top softball parks in this part of the country. City of Colleges Park is home to Central Baptist College and St. Joseph High School softball.
Also available is the Don Owen Sports Complex, with three lighted adult softball fields and six tee-ball fields for kids, and the Curtis Walker Park, with its lighted baseball field, which includes two covered dugouts.
“We have a number of baseball events on the schedule right now and have tournaments planned out for the next year or more,” Shaw notes, adding that they are still looking to add more softball events to their tournament calendar.
Soccer, Tennis and More
Soccer has been another strong sport for Conway, and the 51.5-acre Centennial Soccer Park is a leading facility in the state, offering 10 full-size fields and two U10-size fields (four of the fields are lighted). Home to the Arkansas United Soccer Club, Centennial Soccer Park also has a concession stand, paved parking, a coach/referee room, air-conditioned bathrooms and office space/party room. Central Baptist College and St. Joseph High School utilize Centennial Soccer Park, which also hosts a number of adult leagues.
Among the top soccer events taking place in Conway is the 3v3 Live Hog Wild Regional, held each summer. Last year, the two-day event saw 84 teams participate, with 516 players.
“We have a group who manages our Centennial Soccer Park and keeps the fields in top shape,” Shaw says, “And they’re eager to host even more events.”
The city also offers venues for tennis, including the Conway Tennis Center, with eight hard courts arranged around a central area where players can congregate and relax off-court. There are also seven outdoor hard courts at the University of Central Arkansas and five outdoor hard courts at Hendrix College. The Conway Area Tennis Association is very active in supporting the sport in the area.
Right now, as the sports and recreation focus remains on outdoor endeavors, fishing is receiving more attention. The 6,700-acre Lake Conway, which is just a few miles southeast of the city, is the largest lake in the U.S. to be created by a state wildlife commission and the first to be created by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The lake is popular for catfish, bream, bass and crappie.
“We’ve had events at Lake Conway including crappie masters tournaments,” Shaw says. “There’s also a group that produces a fishing television show that hosts tournaments there. Recently, with shutdowns across the state, the Game and Fish Commission has been doing work at Lake Conway clearing stumps, marking boat pathways and other maintenance, getting it ready for activity this summer. “
Another sport that is moving forward fast in Conway is cycling, which Shaw says is “growing like crazy” in Arkansas overall, as the state becomes more of a cycling destination. In Conway, the group Conway Advocates for Bicycling is helping to promote the activity in the area, and this September is sponsoring an annual bike tour.
“We have local groups that are building trails, and the city has plans to extend paved trails to get from one side of the city to the other,” says Shaw. “There is a youth cycling/mountain biking group here that is the second largest in the state, and they have an interest in holding races and rides in Conway and partnering with other groups.”
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of the popular All-Star Games for his school athletes, held in Conway every June. The Arkansas High School Coaches Association presents the annual All-Star Games, which brings together top high school athletes in the state for baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, volleyball and football at the University of Central Arkansas.
Currently, state guidelines are focused on reopening outdoor facilities, but Conway also has some top-notch indoor facilities, too, including the Don Owen Sports Complex and the McGee Center, which are ready to go when it’s safe for them to open.
“In March, just before the shutdown in Arkansas, we hosted a volleyball tournament with 54 teams,” says Shaw. “It was the biggest volleyball event we’ve held, and utilized space at both the Don Owen Complex and the McGee Center.” The local volleyball club — Conway Juniors Volleyball — organized the event and brought in teams from across Arkansas and nearby states.
The Conway Expo and Event Center is centrally located near many hotels, restaurants and shopping. The Expo Center features 40,000 square feet of column-free space and is attached to the new Event Center, which includes about 6,200 square feet of meeting room space.
Off the playing field, the City of Conway has a lot to offer, too. Of course, the three colleges contribute to Conway’s strong arts and cultural scene, as do other cultural organizations in the city that host diverse events throughout the year, from theater to art galleries, and much more.
“Our downtown area is really nice,” says Shaw, “with great local restaurants that offer outdoor dining, cool coffee shops, boutiques, antique stores, furniture stores and more. Touring downtown is a real highlight.”
Other activities include a visit to Cadron Settlement Park, a National Historic site because of its French trading post roots. The 150-acre park is crossed with hiking and biking trails and has sweeping views overlooking the Arkansas River.
Conway is located along Interstate 40 about 30 miles north of Little Rock. The city has about 1,300 hotels rooms, and many of the hotels are less than five years old and located in town, close to the action. And the city continues to grow its hospitality — a new Hampton Inn will be opening soon in Conway. The city also has more than 150 restaurants, to suit all tastes and budgets.
For athletes and their families, Conway has it all — top-notch sports venues, plenty to see and do when not competing, and the amenities of a larger city wrapped in the charm of a small town. SDM