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The Heart of Sports in America:

14 Nov, 2018

By: Peter Francesconi
Accessible, Accommodating, Affordable

When it comes to sports in the U.S., the Midwest has a lot to offer. The area is easily accessible to most of the country. Its sports facilities, venues, CVBs and sports commissions strive to be very accommodating for event organizers, athletes and fans. And here’s something especially appealing – when compared to the two coasts, traveling and staying in many of these areas is very affordable.
Communities in the Midwest are blessed with excellent sports facilities that continue to attract an increasing amount of interest — and business. When looking to place your next event or tournament, consider these top places to play.

Aurora, Illinois
Just about half an hour west of Chicago, the Aurora area offers a multitude of venues for competitors of all ages. “We have standout facilities,” says Pete Garlock, director of sales for the Aurora Area Sports Alliance, which represents 10 communities. “Probably our busiest, though, is the Stuart Sports Complex.”

The newly expanded Stuart Complex covers more than 315 acres and is one of the largest sports venues in the Midwest, featuring 32 full-size soccer and multi-purpose fields, two regulation-size lighted baseball fields and six lighted, flex softball/baseball diamonds, plus two concession locations.

Garlock says the area also has “a ton of baseball and softball diamonds.” There are also top golf courses, such as Rich Harvest Farms, which hosted the men’s and women’s NCAA Division I golf championships last year. Plus, the Great Lakes Volleyball Center is one of the largest in the Midwest.

Branson/Lakes Area, Missouri
Branson not only has a variety of sports facilities, but off the field or court, the attractions and entertainment options in the area are nearly limitless.

The 42-acre Branson RecPlex, with a 44,000-square-foot indoor facility, has hosted more than 100 state and regional events in baseball, basketball, volleyball, swimming, tennis and martial arts. There are four baseball/softball fields along with multi-use soccer fields. “The RecPlex has been hosting USSSA Girls World Series since 2006, and the USSSA Boys World Series since 2009,” says Terra Alphonso, the director of sports marketing & development for the Branson/Lakes Area CVB. Nearby is the AquaPlex, a 12,250-square-foot waterpark with six lanes for competition.

BallParks of America features 2/3 replica, synthetic turf versions of five Major League Baseball parks. Another top venue is the Branson Convention Center, which has held cheer, dance, boxing, archery, futsal and more. Also, the area has opportunities for water sports, with two warm-water lakes, ideal for bass-fishing competitions, and a cold-water lake, great for trout fishing.

Dayton, Ohio
Located at “the Crossroads of America,” Dayton is within a day’s drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population. “Our location is great for events of all sizes,” says Dayton CVB President and CEO Jacquelyn Y. Powell.

Dayton has had particular success with soccer, offering many multi-field venues, including the Ankeney Complex, with more than 35 irrigated fields, and the Warrior Soccer Complex with 23 fields. For baseball and softball, there’s the 15-diamond Kettering Fields, eight diamonds at Action Sports, and four more at Delco Park. Bowling also is huge, with more than 260 lanes at six different facilities.

“We’re also a big basketball city,” Powell says. “The University of Dayton Arena has hosted more NCAA events than any other arena in the country, and we will be hosting the NCAA play-in games, the First Four Tournament, through 2022. So the road to the NCAA Final Four starts right here.”

Edmond, Oklahoma
“Edmond is focused on quality of life for our citizens, and that translates to some great sports facilities,” says Cathy Williams White, the director of the Edmond CVB. For example, the Edmond Soccer Club Complex, the largest in the state, offers 16 full-size fields (10 with lights) and has hosted regional, state and college tournaments.

There also is the Mitch Park Sports Complex, with nine softball/baseball fields, including one adaptive field, all lighted. Also in Mitch Park is a competitive natatorium with an Olympic-size pool and seating for 800. Golf is a particular point of pride, with courses such as Oak Tree National, which has hosted prestigious PGA and USGA events.

Edmond has the largest volleyball club in the region, plus, the University of Central Oklahoma is an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site and is the home of the men’s and women’s Team USA Sitting Volleyball teams. And when it comes to equestrian and western events, there is the excellent Lazy E Arena.

Hamilton County, Indiana
“It’s been crazy to see the growth in the sports tourism market over the last five or six years,” says John Towle, the sports development manager for the Hamilton County Sports Authority.

Among the many facilities available for tournaments and events is the 400-acre Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, which has 31 multi-purpose fields (including seven synthetic turf), 26 diamonds for baseball and softball, and a 377,00-square-foot events center with three indoor synthetic turf multi-use fields. “We hosted The Grail lacrosse tournament over the summer at Grand Park, which drew more than 200 teams,” Towle says.

Next door to Grand Park is the Pacers Athletic Center, with eight basketball/volleyball courts. The Fieldhouse at Finch Creek Park in Noblesville offers 75,000 square feet of indoor turf and has two full-size fields, four diamonds and five basketball/volleyball courts.

Kansas City, Kansas
Opened in June 2017, the 52-acre Wyandotte Sporting Fields is a world-class venue offering eight lighted, synthetic turf fields. Wyandotte hosts a lot of soccer and lacrosse, and is looking at other opportunities, including rugby and flag football, says Justine Stine, the sports sales manager for the Kansas City, Kansas, CVB. “They’ll be adding four more soccer fields soon,” he notes.

Children’s Mercy Park, which is home to Sporting KC, has a regulation-size soccer field and seats 18,500, but also hosts other sports, too. For the last two years, it played host to the NCAA Division II Football National Championships.

Also in the area is the 6,500-seat T-Bones Ballpark, home to the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. The stadium has hosted other events, too, including women’s national professional fast-pitch, lacrosse camps, soccer and other events.

Medina County, Ohio
With its array of festivals, attractions and historic architecture, Medina County is a hot place to visit, with a number of facilities available for tournaments and events.

The parks systems in many of the county’s towns, including Medina, Brunswick, Wadsworth and Seville, offer hundreds of acres and a number of sports facilities, including multiple soccer/multi-use fields and baseball/softball complexes. “We have a lot of soccer fields available, and we’re also doing a lot of lacrosse and softball,” says the CVB’s Dan Hostetler. The Pinnacle Sports Complex also offers soccer and softball/baseball, in addition to indoor sports facilities.

Creek Bend Ranch, a family-owned and operated bucking bull ranch, offers rodeo events May through September. The facility has a main ring that can seat up to 3,500 spectators.

West Michigan
“For sports and events in the Grand Rapids area, the DeVos Place Convention Center is one of our biggest venues,” says Katy Tigchelaar, director of marketing and events for the West Michigan Sports Commission. The center has 162,000 square feet of column-free space, able to fit 40 volleyball courts, and has hosted events such as gymnastics, basketball, wresting, judo and more. Also right downtown is the 12,000-seat Van Andel Arena, home to the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team, the AHL affiliate to the Detroit Red Wings.

The Art Van Sports Complex has eight diamonds, with a championship baseball field that seats about 1,500, along with a “Miracle Field” for adaptive athletes. On the same property are soccer fields and the Rock City BMX park. Millennium Park, just outside of Grand Rapids, holds a lot of water sports events, and in 2019, the city will host a USRowing event.

In addition, “We have 12 colleges and universities in the area with amazing facilities, and they’re great partners of ours,” Tigchelaar notes. SDM

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