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In the Heartland, Sports Thrive

2 Nov, 2020

By: Cindy Cantrell

Sports loyalty runs deep in the Midwest,  where professional and college teams are considered family. The Heartland is also known for friendliness, scenic open spaces and a relaxed pace of life that belies its competitive spirit. Following are some of the destinations in Middle America in which sports are a lifestyle.  

Bowling Green, Ohio

Located in northwestern Ohio, Bowling Green is a small college city with big success in showcasing its historic architecture, legendary eateries, family-friendly festivals and sports for every season.

Bowling Green State University has a massive fan base for its Falcon football team played at Doyt L. Perry Stadium. 

Another major venue is Carter Park, which opened in 1990. In addition to an 18-hole disc golf course and sand volleyball courts, the complex features nine diamonds for spring/summer youth baseball and softball for ages 4 to 15, as well as spring/summer adult softball leagues. Supported by local businesses through ads and sponsorships, the facility also hosts 10 weekend tournaments that attract up to 400 youth baseball teams.

According to Tim Dunn, president of Bowling Green Youth Baseball, the tournament staff is as respected as the amenities.

Dunn said, “Bowling Green is well known for its organization, communication with families and teams before tournaments and follow-up after the tournaments.”

Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands

Less than an hour’s drive from Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands accommodates sports families with over 615,000 square feet of event space and more than 8,000 hotel rooms. Entertainment options include Cedar Point, the Lake Erie islands and indoor water park resorts.

Lake Erie Shores & Islands has the ability to host large outdoor and indoor events, year-round, for every sport. Sports Force Parks features 10 multi-purpose, outdoor synthetic turf fields. The Cedar Point Sports Center offers 145,000 square feet of indoor space (10 basketball/20 volleyball courts) and a championship arena with retractable seating. Lake Erie provides a refreshing natural venue for fishing tournaments, sailing regattas and more, while the lakefront is an ideal backdrop for running competitions and obstacle races.

“We are a premier destination with indoor and outdoor sport facilities, coasters, water parks and tons of family fun,” said sports tourism manager Chris Lewis. “Come here year-round for the sport. Stay for the love of it!”

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Situated along the banks of Cedar River in Eastern Iowa, Cedar Rapids has a range of world-class sports venues to put everyone in the game.

Completely renovated in 2013, the U.S. Cellular Center is a premier multi-use arena with an adjoining convention center, hotel and parking. Popular events have included the NCAA Division III volleyball and wrestling championships, as well as the International Jugglers’ Association annual festival, planned to return in 2022.

ImOn Ice features an NHL arena and Olympic rink, while Prospect Meadows is a new multi-million dollar baseball and softball complex. The 2018 US Quidditch Midwest Regional Championship took place at Tuma Soccer Complex that has 32 fields on which various youth soccer tournaments are also held annually.  

Erik Hudson, director of sports tourism for the Cedar Rapids Tourism Office, said his staff looks forward to continuing to grow its footprint in the industry.

“Coupled with the fact that our city is safe, centrally located and has amazing amenities,” Hudson said, “Cedar Rapids truly is the perfect destination for all sporting events.”

Kansas City, Kansas

It’s always sports season in Kansas City, Kansas, where professional teams include the MLS Sporting Kansas City soccer team, Kansas City T-Bones baseball club and NASCAR racing at Kansas Speedway.

Soccer takes center stage at Wyandotte Sporting Fields, a 52-acre complex featuring 12 fields – four with natural grass and eight with synthetic turf – for all levels of play. Memorial Hall, a multi-purpose auditorium with seating for 3,500, has hosted the Kansas City Roller Warriors, professional wrestling, mixed martial arts and numerous concerts. 

Justin Stine, meetings and sports sales manager at Visit Kansas City, notes the proximity of Children’s Mercy Park (home of the Sporting KC), Kansas Speedway and JustBats Field at T-Bones Stadium. This family-friendly area is complemented by an outlet mall with multiple entertainment options, restaurants and a casino – all supported by 2,000 hotel rooms within city limits and 30,000 more within the metro area.

“Kansas City has it all, in terms of sports facilities, attractions, dining and hotels,” Stine said, “all within a day’s drive from 70 million Americans.”

Hamilton County, Indiana

Located just north of Indianapolis, Hamilton County, Indiana has become a popular sports destination through a team effort by its four cities (Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield) and four northern towns (Arcadia, Atlanta, Cicero and Sheridan).

Westfield’s Grand Park Sports Campus, official home of the Indianapolis Colts Training Camp, is a sprawling 400-acre mecca that hosts youth, college and Olympic-level national championships on 26 baseball and softball diamonds, 31 multi-purpose outdoor fields for soccer, football and lacrosse, eight basketball courts, three indoor soccer fields and two additional indoor facilities for basketball/volleyball and athlete training.

Trivia point: Olympic gold medalist David Boudia learned his craft at Forest Park Aquatic Center in Noblesville, site of the 2020 Amateur Athletic Union Diving Nationals.

“All of Hamilton County is family-friendly with beautiful parks, museums, 500 miles of trails and countless places to dine along the way,” said Karen Radcliff, vice president and chief strategy officer at Hamilton County Tourism. “Wherever you visit in Hamilton County, you’ll feel as though you’ve come to the right place.”

South Bend-Mishawaka, Indiana

With world-class sports facilities, nearly 5,000 hotel rooms and a passion for athletics, South Bend-Mishawaka, Indiana is an ideal choice for events of any size.

While football and other home games draw visitors to the University of Notre Dame, the region has more than 30 soccer/lacrosse fields, over 20 baseball/softball diamonds and golf courses for all levels of competition.

The Compton Family Ice Arena houses an NHL- and Olympic- size rink, while nontraditional sports including cornhole, pickleball, gymnastics and table tennis are drawing increasingly large crowds.

In addition, Bendix Arena is being transformed into the region’s only dedicated e-sports facility. The 100,000-square-foot convention center located in South Bend’s Century Center is just two hours east of Chicago, as well as in close proximity to Interstate 90 and South Bend International Airport.

“South Bend is so desirable because we can host events big and small, and there are so many signature experiences for families to enjoy,” said Nick Kleva, sports market development manager for Visit South Bend Mishawaka.

Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln, the state capital of Nebraska, is a top-rated sports and vacation destination due to its central location, new facilities and rejuvenated downtown entertainment districts offering world-class athletics, unique Midwestern dining and arts appreciation.

The city has a tremendous passion and tradition of hosting events that range from local youth sports to major national competitions. Pinnacle Bank Arena, a 15,500-seat indoor facility in the West Haymarket district, is home of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers men’s and women’s basketball teams and a popular venue for NBA preseason games, NCAA tournaments, USA volleyball, MMA, roller derby and major concerts.

“Our tier-one amenities, community support and attention to detail are a few of many reasons to come to Lincoln,” said Derek Bombeck, sales development manager for the Lincoln Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We look forward to hosting your next event and showing you why Lincoln is the premier destination for all of your sporting needs.”

Fargo and West Fargo, North Dakota; Moorhead, Minnesota

The sister cities of Fargo and West Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota are known for small-town atmospheres and big-city vibes with an array of cultural influences, attractions and activities.

The Fargodome, a multi-purpose facility, has hosted USA Wrestling Junior and Cadet National Championships for more than 25 years. The North American Fastpitch Association World Series took place in 2017-18 at the North Softball Complex, which will also host the USA Softball Class E Nationals in 2020, and Scheels Arena is home to the Fargo Force, a USHL hockey team.

Frostival is a six-week celebration of winter that takes place from mid-January through February. Another popular tourist destination is the infamous woodchipper from the movie “Fargo,” which is housed within the visitor center.

“Our 20-plus facilities are not only state-of-the-art,” said Fargo-Moorhead Athletic Commission Director of Sports Kali Mork, “but also offer the Midwest friendliness and professionalism that have come to define the region.” SDM

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