Arkansas

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Tournaments and… Toad Racing? Conway, Arkansas, Shows Its Versatility

30 May, 2017

By: Juli Anne Patty

If you want to know what Conway, Arkansas, is all about, you can get a pretty good idea on the first full weekend of May. On that weekend, every year, a sports event occurs that demonstrates the community’s love of all things sports, and all things fun: the World Famous Toad Races at the Toad Suck Daze festival.

“It’s a huge festival with all the fair food, rides, and things you love about a festival,” says Rachel Shaw, director of destination marketing, Conway Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The kids race toads, and people come from all over to watch.”

In fact, the award-winning three-day event, which celebrates 36 years this summer, draws approximately 160,000 people to Conway’s downtown, a unique destination in its own right. In 2001, as many cities were worrying about what to do as businesses and residents moved away from their downtowns, Conway decided to try a different tact. They formed the Conway Downtown Partnership, which first studied successful downtown areas across America and then made a plan for Conway’s own historic downtown area.

Today, many events take advantage of the charming, walkable downtown area filled with shops, restaurants and attractions. Not only does the Toad Suck Daze Festival happen on the streets of downtown, but also the event raises money for the Conway Downtown Partnership to ensure that Downtown Conway is the perfect setting for events, business owners and residents for decades to come.

Showing the community’s focus on kids, the event also raises money for education and has generated more than $1.4 million in scholarships, scholarship endowments and pre-K education funding for students in Faulkner County since it began in 1982.

Inside Sports
Toad Suck Daze is just one example of Conway’s experience and skill in putting together top-notch events. While Conway welcomes plenty of outdoor sports like baseball and softball to enjoy its beautiful weather and facilities, the city is also home to some exceptional indoor facilities that are ideal for volleyball, basketball and any number of other indoor sports events as follows.

Don Owen Sports Complex is a multi-purpose facility on 125 acres, including the Conway Sports Center, six tee-ball fields, three lighted adult softball fields, restrooms, two concession areas and Conway’s dog park. Conway Sports Center, a 44,000-square-foot indoor facility, can accommodate three basketball courts or six volleyball courts simultaneously.

Don Owen Sports Complex is also home to the Faulkner Country Rodeo Arena, which consists of one large barn, one small barn, one large rodeo arena, corral areas, two announcer stands, restrooms, and a concession area. Parking is never a problem at this well-designed venue, with five large parking lots located throughout the park.

For families attending sports events, Don Owen Sports Complex also offers another highly appealing and beneficial aspect: location. It’s conveniently located near Conway’s major hotel corridor as well as the city’s new $65 million Lewis Crossing shopping center. The newest development in Conway, which has been experiencing record retail growth and profits in recent years, Lewis Crossing offers visiting sports families a range of shopping, dining and entertainment options, including On the Border, Academy Sports, Bed Bath & Beyond and Books-A-Million.

The McGee Center is a 46,600-square-foot facility that also offers space that accommodates either three basketball courts or six volleyball courts. The Center also has a large meeting room which can hold up to 150 people and is also home to the Conway Skate Park and community garden.

“These are both city-owned facilities, and they are run by the city Parks and Recreation Department, which means they are always in outstanding shape and have experienced staff on hand for any event,” says Shaw.

On the Diamond
Baseball and softball enjoy a big following in Conway, and event owners enjoy both the extraordinary facilities and the enthusiastic local support. Located centrally, close to hotels and restaurants, Conway Station Park is a nine-diamond complex with eight fields featuring 225-foot fences and one with a 350-foot fence.

Nearby is City of Colleges Park, one of the region’s finest softball facilities. Completed in 2009, City of Colleges Park offers five lighted fields and is the home field for the national champion Central Baptist College women’s softball team.

The Conway Way
Working together as a community is a theme in Conway, one the staff applies to every event that comes to town. In addition to the many city-owned sports facilities, sports event owners who come to Conway can also access an array of higher learning sports venues at Conway’s three colleges and universities.

Conway is home to the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), an NCAA Division I school, as well as to private institutions, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College.

“Because of our college population, we’re a very young town, with a median age around 27, and that gives us a special environment that’s great for sports events,” says Shaw. “We love being a college town, and we partner with all three of our colleges whenever an event calls for it.”

One such recent event was the Nike Fatchmo Volley Invitational, which held its games at three facilities, Don Owen Sports Center, McGee Sports Center and Hendrix College. Fatchmo is a girls’ volleyball league that offers teams and competition for all levels, from the local/developmental program for players who have limited volleyball experience, to the elite national travel-team level. The Nike Fatchmo Volley Invitational is the organization’s central competition each year.

The city is also the home to a a multi-sport event that draws the state’s best high school athletes each year.

“We also host our state High School Coaches Association All-Star Week, where the state’s top athletes compete in one final event before they go off to college,” says Shaw.

The event, which is in its 62nd year, brings together the state’s top athletes in six sports. This year marks the sixth straight year the event is being held in Conway at the University of Central Arkansas, making use of the University’s exceptional facilities:
• Bear Stadium, baseball
• Farris Field, softball
• First Security Field at Estes Stadium, soccer
• Farris Center, volleyball and  men’s and women’s basketball
• First Security Field at Estes Stadium, football.

The event also includes a coaches’ clinic, which includes all sports, and is held at UCA’s Brewer-Hegeman Center, a 6,500-square-foot conference center that can accommodate up to 500 people.

The Place to Play
One of the fastest-growing communities in the state, Conway delivers the easy-going charm of a small town along with the opportunities for fun and adventure that might be expected from a larger city. Lake Conway, at 6,700 acres, is the largest man-made game and fish commission lake in the United States. Stocked with bass, catfish, bream and crappie, Lake Conway is a favorite among Arkansas anglers.
Beaverfork Lake is another popular place to play the day away. There is a boat launch available for a fee, and Beaverfork is a great place for those interested to try their hand at windsurfing. Far more than just a lake, this 1,200-acre park has a swimming area, concession stand, picnic area, sand volleyball courts and lighted softball fields.

Indoor experiences are also plentiful in Conway, with the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre producing a variety of shows each year, the Conway Symphony Orchestra and the Baum Gallery of Fine Art. For some old-fashioned family fun, there’s always Conway’s bowling alleys, movie theaters and the Hogwild Family Fun Center, which offers laser tag, bumper cars, black light mini golf, inflatable jump centers and over 50 arcade games.

From planning the top tournaments to kicking back with some toads, Conway, Arkansas, is serious about being a seriously great place to play. For more information about how to bring your next event to Conway, contact Rachel Shaw at rachel@conwayarkansas.org or 866-7Conway.   SDM

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