Uncovering a Sports Gem in Kentucky
24 Jul, 2017By: Peter Francesconi
There are a lot of reasons to visit the city of Owensboro, nestled on a scenic bend of the Ohio River in western Kentucky. Music fans are attracted to the area’s ties to the roots of bluegrass, including the many festivals held every year, along with the unique International Bluegrass Music Museum. If you’re a fan of barbecue, there’s the world-famous International Bar-B-Q Festival and Owensboro’s signature barbecued mutton and burgoo.
And if you’re a sports fan, there’s the fact that Owensboro, the state’s fourth-largest city, was picked by Sports Illustrated magazine as its “No. 1 Sportstown” in Kentucky.
“We have all types of sports and recreation options here, with outstanding sports complexes capable of hosting tournaments and events of all sizes,” says Mark Calitri, president of Visit Owensboro.
In fact, the number and quality of tournament facilities in this city of 60,000 is impressive and includes the Thompson-Berry Soccer Complex, Owensboro Softball Complex, Waymond Morris Park Football Complex, Owensboro Centre Court Tennis Complex, Edge Ice Center, Panther Creek Park and numerous golf courses.
“We have a lot of outdoor sports facilities, of course, but our big push is what we have available for indoor sports and competitions, including the Owensboro Convention Center and Owensboro Sportscenter,” says Jared Bratcher, the sports director for Visit Owensboro.
“Our indoor venues represent not only a huge opportunity for growth, but also give sports event rights holders and tournament owners exactly what they need to showcase competitors at their best and give athletes, organizers, fans and family a great experience,” he adds.
Importantly, notes Calitri, the indoor venues lend themselves not just to traditional indoor sports such as wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics and cheer, but also to some of the more non-traditional competitions, like cornhole or cup-stacking. “We’d like to bring in more events that you’d never really think of,” he says. “We have great indoor facilities and a city that can roll out the red carpet for competitors, organizers, families and fans.”
Owensboro Convention Center
Opened just three years ago, the multi-purpose Owensboro Convention Center offers a total of nearly 102,000 square feet of space, including 44,000 square feet of exhibit hall space. The three-level Convention Center also has ballrooms and numerous meeting rooms available. In addition, there is a separate, nearly 9,000-square-foot outdoor area called The Pier, which extends out over the scenic Ohio River and is suitable for receptions, dinners and more. The Convention Center has a restaurant, offers on-site catering, and has Wi-Fi throughout.
The venue has held numerous events, including wrestling, body-building and tae kwon do tournaments, cheer and dance competitions and more. It’s also been the site of a number of cornhole competitions, including regional championships, and at the end of July, the Convention Center will host the ACO World Championship of Cornhole XII. In August, the River Valley Cluster Dog Show will be held at the center, and early next year, the facility will host a futsal tourney.
“The Owensboro Convention Center is right in our downtown area, at one end of our large, six-block riverfront park,” says Blake Henry, general manager of Owensboro Convention Center. “There are lots of things to do, all within easy walking distance, including plenty of restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets.” While the whole area is very walkable, the city also offers a free trolley that does a loop throughout the downtown area.
There are two hotels adjacent to the Convention Center, offering about 300 rooms, and a third hotel is in the works, with completion slated for 2019. Other hotels are all within five miles, and the Convention Center offers plenty of parking.
The Owensboro Sportscenter, which is owned by the city of Owensboro, is a multi-purpose 5,000-seat arena that hosts all sorts of events. The arena floor has over 11,000 square feet of usable space and can be modified for a variety of events, including basketball, rodeos, concerts, expos, trade shows, conventions and more. Every fall, a major cheerleading event is held at the Sportscenter, which is located less than a mile and a half from downtown Owensboro and offers free parking.
The facility is the home of the Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers men’s and women’s basketball programs. The Panther men’s team is the winningest men’s college basketball team in NCAA Division II, having won the championship eight times. The venue also is home to the Owensboro Catholic High School Aces.
“Between the Sportscenter and the Convention Center, we have a lot to offer when it comes to indoor sports and competitions,” Bratcher says. “But outdoors, we have sports complexes that are unmatched by cities much larger than ours, thanks to our city and county parks departments.”
The Owensboro Softball Complex, located in Jack C. Fisher Park, provides four lighted softball fields, a field house with concessions and an announcers area. The complex has hosted numerous local, state, regional and national tournaments, and it has been honored with a National Softball Association (NSA) Outstanding Park Award.
The Thompson-Berry Soccer Complex is in a 38.5-acre community park and offers 11 fields, along with a concessions/restroom building. The complex is home to the Owensboro United Soccer Club and Academy, and also has picnic facilities and a playground. It has been the host site for many soccer tournaments and events of all sizes.
Located on 52 acres, Waymond Morris Park is home to a lighted, four-field football complex, with a central concessions and restroom building and a 300-car parking lot. The park, which hosts a number of youth football events each year, also offers a seven-acre lake and paved walking trails.
Centre Court, which is the two-year-old Owensboro Tennis Complex, offers nine lighted outdoor courts and six indoor courts. The tennis complex is a partnership between the Owensboro Daviess County Tennis Association and the City of Owensboro.
Panther Creek Park contains six lighted baseball/softball diamonds, each with scoreboards and two concession stands. When not on the field, there is a six-acre lake, spray park, picnic shelter, butterfly garden and four nature trails. In addition, there’s the 152-acre Yellow Creek Park, which offers three baseball/softball fields that have hosted statewide and national tournaments. Yellow Creek Park also has other attractions, such as a spray park, disc golf course and playground for children.
Owensboro also has the only municipal ice arena in the state, the Edge Ice Center, which is open year-round. The facility offers a 42,600-square-foot arena with an ice surface of 17,000 square feet, along with full concession and pro shops, five locker rooms, referee room and more.
Music, Food and More
“We are fortunate to have great sports complexes from both the city and the county to offer to both our residents and to tournament owners and directors looking to bring their events into this area,” says Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson. “Our city has so much to offer, including when athletes are not on the field or court, that we’re sure families and fans traveling here will enjoy their visit.”
The city hosts more than 20 annual festivals — from music to food to nature and more — along with unique attractions and special events nearly every week. In addition to the International Bluegrass Music Museum, the world’s only facility dedicated to preserving the history of bluegrass music, the city also is home to the Owensboro Museum of Fine Arts, the Owensboro Museum of Science and History, and the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden.
Located in the northwestern part of the state, Owensboro can be reached easily from all directions via four-lane highways, in addition to the Owensboro Daviess County Regional Airport, with non-stops from St. Louis and Orlando.
“When you bring an event here, we make it worth the trip,” Calitri says. “When it comes to sports events, Owensboro is ready to play, in a beautiful setting.” SDM