"Best Small Town to Visit" Serves Up Volleyball, Gymnastics, Baseball and More
1 May, 2017By: Michael Popke
Already a popular vacation spot with such major attractions as Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee, also has become a high-profile destination for several youth sports organizations.
“We’re not far from wherever you are,” says Amanda Marr, director of marketing and communications for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. “Sevierville is within a day’s drive of over half the nation’s population east of the Mississippi.”
Pronounced “s-VIR-ville,” Sevierville is located about 15 miles due north of Gatlinburg and tucked in to the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park — America’s most visited national park. With almost 2,800 hotel rooms, 575 cabins and condos, and more than 750 campsites, the city of 17,000 residents provides the ideal opportunity to tie sports travel into a family getaway. After all, 14 million visitors every year can’t be wrong.
“Sevierville is known as a value destination,” Marr says. “Our city not only offers great sports facilities, but the overall destination is very appealing to families who travel for sporting events.”
The 240,000-square-foot Sevierville Convention Center hosts several volleyball, gymnastics and competitive cheer events each year, while the Sevierville City Park offers five baseball/softball fields, eight tennis courts (four with lights) and an outdoor 25-meter six-lane pool with diving well. The Sevierville Golf Club boasts two championship 18-hole courses — one that winds through rolling foothills and the other situated along the Little Pigeon River — and the city’s network of streets, greenways and sports venues provide scenic backdrops for marathons and triathlons.
“Those are our sweet spots right now,” Marr says, adding that Sevierville’s specialties provide a balance with those offered by neighboring communities. “We’re also interested in martial arts and table tennis — activities we have the space to accommodate. Those are untapped activities that would be good fits, too.”
‘We Don’t Say No’
Marr is quick to point out that Sevierville established itself as a sports destination before its sister cities Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which focus on basketball, lacrosse, football and other sports. Collectively, though, officials in all three cities try to serve the wide needs of multiple sports organizations. “Our goal is to make sure we’re providing a variety of opportunities,” Marr says. “When we talk about Sevierville, we’re also talking about our sister cities.”
That may be true, but Sevierville has plenty to offer on its own. Among the highlights at the Sevierville Convention Center are the annual Smoky Mountain Gymnastics Vacation Classic in February, the Encore Championships in March for dance and cheer, and the Universal Cheerleaders Association Smoky Mountain Christmas Championships in December, plus a variety of K2 Volleyball tournaments. An additional 54,000-square-foot outdoor pad allows for tented areas or other hospitality spaces.
Two exhibit halls in the convention center can house a maximum of 21 volleyball courts, and each court is separated by divider curtains that drop from the ceiling and allow for greater focus among players, coaches and spectators. “It’s just a better overall experience for everyone,” says Kelly DeBord, the sales, marketing and public relations coordinator for the City of Sevierville, which operates the 10-year-old convention center.
The city recently hired a new salesperson to focus specifically on attracting new sporting events to the facility, and one of the first will be a martial arts competition in a convention center ballroom. Organized by New River Jujitsu in Pulaski, Virginia, the August event will bring in an estimated 200 athletes.
“We don’t say no,” DeBord says. “If we have a new event we haven’t done before, we’re going to do everything we can to make it a success. Once people come and have that first experience with Sevierville, nine times out of 10, they’ll be back.
The convention center is attached to Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort, where guests can play and relax with one indoor waterpark and two outdoor waterparks.
Sevierville City Park has hosted Independent Softball Association and Fastpitch America Softball Association tournaments, as well as Gameday USA Baseball tournaments.
Smaller venues include the Sevierville Community Center, which offers a full-size basketball court and two volleyball courts, an indoor 25-meter six-lane pool, and a bowling alley with 10 lanes. There’s also the Sevierville Civic Center, an 11,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility with portable seating for up to 300.
One of the most popular sports facilities in Sevierville is Smokies Stadium, home of the Tennessee Smokies — the Class AA affiliate of the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. The 6,200-seat facility not only offers spectators the opportunity to see tomorrow’s Major League Baseball stars today but also is available for youth sports tournaments and other events. From the Tennessee Smokies High School Summer Woodbat Classic to other special events like concerts and drive-through holiday light shows, the facility offers year-round programming opportunities.
‘People Don’t Know How Much There Is To Do Here’
Whether before or after the competition, Sevierville offers plenty of reasons to plan on spending an extra few days in the area — many of them with sports or recreation themes. Here are six of them:
• Dollywood: This theme park in Pigeon Forge is co-owned by Sevierville’s hometown hero, Dolly Parton, and attracts more than three million visitors every year. In addition to thrill rides, Dollywood offers a water park, a resort and traditional crafts and musical performances. The Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame also is located there. No wonder it’s considered the largest ticketed attraction in Tennessee. And if you want more Dolly, a popular statue of her decorates the front lawn of the Sevier County Courthouse and celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2017.
• NASCAR SpeedPark: This racing-themed amusement park boasts go-kart tracks, thrill rides, a three-story indoor rock climbing wall, miniature golf courses, bumper boats and an arcade.
• Tennessee Museum of Aviation: Airworthy Warbirds are the foundation of the aircraft collection at this museum, which also is believed to be the only U.S. venue to house two airworthy P-47 Thunderbolts, a rare World War II plane. The 5,500-foot runway of the Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge Airport, located just outside the hangar door, makes it possible for visitors to enjoy frequent flight demonstrations, and the museum’s inventory changes often.
• Sevier Air Trampoline Park and Ninja Warrior Course: This new indoor facility features 38,000 square feet of junior and advanced Ninja Warrior courses (just like the ones on TV), plus trampolines and a three-story net system designed for children ages two to 10.
• Adventure Park at Five Oaks: This outdoor adventure park includes horseback-riding trails, a network of ziplines collectively spanning more than 70 acres and the Tree Tops ropes course, which is ideal for team-building experiences.
• Tanger Outlets: The shopping center offers more than 100 high-end outlet stores, including name-brand sports retailers such as Under Armour, Nike, Adidas and more. There also are stores such as Coach, Michael Kors and Chico’s that sell designer apparel and accessories, plus others selling housewares and specialty items.
During the past 10 years, Sevierville has undergone a significant building boom that added more than 1,000 hotel rooms and several new opportunities for visitors — and more are on the way. “People just don’t realize how much there is to do here in Sevierville,” Marr says. “From our quaint downtown to shopping, outdoor adventure attractions, museums and great restaurants, there is so much to discover.”
No wonder Smithsonian named Sevierville one of its “20 Small Towns to Visit” in 2015.
The resilient Smoky Mountains area has rebounded quickly from last winter’s wildfire. The attractions are open, the views are as beautiful as ever, and the fun is growing exponentially with several new attractions, hotels and restaurants opening this year. As DeBord proclaims: “We’re open for business.” SDM