East-South Central

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Warm Weather, Fine Facilities and Superior Sports

25 Jun, 2021

By: Cindy Cantrell

The Southeastern region beckons  with its agreeable year-round climate, rich history and idyllic natural beauty providing respite and rejuvenation. The following destinations offer first-class facilities, accommodations for all budgets and every level of competition with trademark Southern style.
Conway, Arkansas
Sports are at the heart of Conway, Arkansas, which is increasingly becoming a destination for cyclists. In fact, the city is one of only eight communities statewide that has been awarded the Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists.
In October 2020, the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce organized the inaugural Biketoberfest to advocate for the growing cycling community. The monthlong celebration highlighted local amenities and routes for four different formats: road, mountain, gravel and community, which includes parks, pump tracks and other family-friendly rides.
A new mountain bike trail is also under construction at the 130-acre Meadows Office and Technology Park, with plans to host events this fall.  
“In Conway, you can hop on a bike from just about anywhere and go for a ride,” said Rachel Shaw, executive director of the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Whether you’re looking for a social outing, workout or adventure, you’ll enjoy the area’s finest sights along the way.” 
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
It’s easy to get in the game in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.
Want to promote your event to participants, teams and fans? An online toolkit is available at www.gulfshores.com/sports/planner-toolkit with information regarding services, facilities and marketing resources.
Looking for on-the-go dining? Options for take-out, delivery and catering at www.gulfshores.com/sports/on-the-go-dining are particularly helpful for sports and event groups.
Need a place to stay? Book Direct (https://gulfshoressports.bookdirect.net/), a lodging search and referral solution, generates the lowest rates and availability.
Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events for Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events, said the region is known for first-class facilities enhanced by natural surroundings like the beach, waterways and 6,150-acre Gulf State Park.
“Teams and participants looking for fun in the sun between athletic activities have so many options,” she said, “from relaxing on Alabama’s beaches and dolphin cruising in the Gulf, to kayaking the back bays and waterslide racing at Waterville USA.”
Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville, South Carolina takes the trophy when it comes to creating an all-around experience, and lately everyone seems to be declaring Greenville a winner. 
The combination of Greenville’s central Southeast location in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along with significant investments in world-class facilities such as Bon Secours Wellness Arena, have made it a sports magnet. It is also a repeat host destination for events including the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships Preliminary Rounds and GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. 
Greenville’s friendly four-season climate, award-winning downtown and countless opportunities for fun on and off the court, field or course put Greenville front and center on the sports map.
“Greenville’s combination of championship-level facilities, walkable downtown and easy access to natural resources create the perfect environment for athletes, fans and families,” said David Montgomery, vice president of sales at VisitGreenvilleSC.
Gainesville, Florida
With its elite facilities, central location within Florida and proximity to surrounding states, Gainesville, Florida is a premier event destination. 
As home of the University of Florida, the city has the courts, fields and venues to accommodate every event. In addition, Alachua County boasts numerous state parks, natural springs and museums, along with an abundance of shopping and dining options for athletes and families in Celebration Pointe, Butler Plaza and downtown Gainesville.
With more than 5,000 hotel rooms, attendees have their choice of Hilton, Marriott, IHG and other top brands. Full-service conference centers and value hotels round out the offerings for all preferences and budgets.    
“The entire Gainesville Sports Commission staff is committed to making your event experience exceptional,” said Joleen Cacciatore Miller, executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission. “We take pride in providing you and your attendees with the perfect facility and combination of Gainesville’s rich sports performance history and small-town charm.”
Birmingham, Alabama
As a host city, Birmingham, Alabama is as impressive as the talent that comes to play.
The 60-acre Hoover Met Complex is comprised of multiple sports facilities and event venues. The 155,000-square-foot Finley Center features 17 volleyball courts, 11 basketball courts, an indoor climbing center and an indoor walking track. Hoover Met Stadium is home of the SEC Baseball Tournament and Hoover High School football. There is also an RV park, 16 tennis courts and 10 fields for soccer, football, lacrosse, baseball and softball. 
The Birmingham CrossPlex is a $46 million indoor track and aquatic facility. In 2021, the city also hosted the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the PGA TOUR Champions Regions Tradition and the USA Pickleball National Indoor Championships.
According to David Galbaugh, vice president of sports sales and marketing for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, local parks and hiking trails are also popular.
“Birmingham offers an ideal mix of competitive youth sports, large spectator sports and outdoor recreation,” he said.
Florida’s Sports Coast
New to Florida’s Sports Coast is the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center, a USTA-sanctioned tennis facility boasting 11 tennis courts, eight pickleball courts and four padel courts for the up-and-coming game that is a blend of racquetball and tennis.
Open since August 2020, the 98,000 square-foot Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County is the region’s largest indoor event center. In addition to a cheer/gymnastics area, the venue features 71,000 square feet of clear span hardwood surface divided into two 35,500-square-foot arenas, each with four drop-down basketball nets and eight volleyball nets. 
According to Adam Thomas, tourism director for Florida’s Sports Coast, the region has hosted more than 40 sporting events to date this year, including baseball, lacrosse, hockey, gymnastics, soccer, volleyball and basketball.
 “Sports tourism has not slowed down for Florida’s Sports Coast,” Thomas said. “Since the opening of our new sports campus in Wesley Chapel, we have filled nearly every weekend with tournaments, proudly welcoming families from across the U.S. to our destination.”
Huntsville, Alabama
Huntsville, Alabama is experiencing a period of unprecedented sports tourism this year, with a mixture of long-standing events, long-awaited debuts and relocated competitions.
Host site of the Alabama High School Athletic Association soccer championships for two decades, the city enjoyed two unveilings following a one-year delay: the PGA TOUR’s Huntsville Championship and the Rocket City Trash Pandas, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
The Southeastern Conference gymnastics, Gulf South Conference soccer, Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball and National Club Swimming Association championships were all originally set in other cities. Still ahead are the USA Swimming Futures Championships and USTA Girls’ 16s National Clay Court Championship in July, and the National Club Swimming Association Championship in August.
“We are well-positioned to host these events because of the foresight of our elected officials and civic leaders,” said Mark McCarter, convention sales manager for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s their investment in our facilities that enables us to host such a wide variety of events.”
Macon, Georgia
Pickleball is widely considered to be one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, a trend which is reflected in Macon, Georgia.
Macon Pickleball hosted its largest tournament to date at Tattnall Pickleball and Tennis Center in March 2021, with more than 300 players on all 25 pickleball courts for the first time in the facility’s history. The center is located within Tattnall Square Park, one of the oldest urban parks in the country.
At the heart of the city is the Macon Centreplex, encompassing the Macon City Auditorium, Edgar H. Wilson Convention Centre and Macon Coliseum, which hosts wrestling, basketball, cheer, ice hockey, arena football and other sports. 
“Along with our rich sports history,” said Visit Macon Director of Sales Trish Whitley, “Macon offers river access, miles of hiking trails, brew pubs, downtown shopping and many other unique options to attract and entertain athletes and families.”
Foley, Alabama
Foley, Alabama is the hidden gem of the South, offering a world-class event center and outdoor sports fields just steps away from heart-stopping amusement rides, shopping and more than 100 dining options.  
The Foley Sports Tourism Complex includes the Foley Event Center which offers 90,000 square feet of flexible space. In addition to this multi-purpose venue, 15 outdoor sports fields and a championship stadium are ready for action.
The city is also home to 10 youth baseball/softball fields, a world-class golf course and nearly 500 acres of natural habitat at Graham Creek Nature Preserve, which provide the perfect setting for disc golf, archery, trail running and more. 
“Our premier facilities and nearby attractions promise an incredible event,” said Shellie Kichler, marketing and sales director for Foley Sports Tourism. “But it’s our Southern hospitality and willingness to go that extra mile that will keep you coming back time and time again.” SDM
 
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