Profiles in Leadership - Behind-the-Scenes | Sports Destination Management

Profiles in Leadership - Behind-the-Scenes

Team Members in Event Planning
Mar 31, 2012 | By: Linda Driscoll-Dobel

Although it is used in a variety of contexts, the word 'team' is primarily associated with the sports world. Certainly, there are many non-team-based sports, but for sports events planners, the concept of team is highly relevant, whether it is in reference to the athletes themselves or their organizational crew who is responsible for putting together the event.

Often overlooked, however, is a third facet of the sports event team—those individuals who work within the organizations in the destination location that will host the events, whether that organization is a convention and visitors bureau, a college/university that hosts collegiate events, a sports commission, a chamber of commerce or a tourism bureau.

These members of the sports event planning team play a vital role in making the event a success, yet their praises often go unsung. The consequence is many on the other side of event planning are unaware of the credentials these individuals hold and the accomplishments they have.

To bring them the recognition they deserve, Sports Destination Management has assembled a glimpse into the professional backgrounds of leaders in the field of sports event procurement.

These spotlights should help to bring an appreciation for the work that goes on behind the scenes by these leaders while providing information on the sports destinations they represent.

Amanda Smith Rasnick, Lake Erie Shores & Islands (Ohio)
Amanda Smith Rasnick has been successfully bringing sporting events to Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands since 2008. As group sales coordinator for the destination marketing organization, Rasnick has been instrumental in securing events for the region.

Located on Ohio’s north coast, between Toledo and Cleveland, Lake Erie Shores & Islands is fortunate to have the lake and its beaches, picturesque roads, challenging fields and open parks to attract event organizers.

One of the more successful events is the Revolution3 Triathlon series, which returns for its third year in 2012. Other events that return to the area often are fishing tournaments (FLW Outdoors, ESPN Bassmasters) and cheer and dance competitions (Xtreme Spirit, Midwest Cheer/Dance).

Rasnick is working with several event organizers for 2012, including Lacrosse America (Roller Coaster Rumble Tournament), United States Optimist Dinghy Association (USODA National Championships), Endurance Sports Productions (Jet Express Triathlon) and Adrenaline Sports Management Inc. (Santa Hustle).

Lake Erie Shores & Islands is an extraordinary sports destination and directly supports repeat and new events through assisting in the hotel and venue bid processes, event promotional grants, providing support staff and introducing planners to local officials and sponsors.

Auvis Cole, Rock Hill/York County CVB (South Carolina)
Auvis Cole works for the Rock Hill/York County CVB in South Carolina, bordering Charlotte. As the sports sales manager, Auvis focuses on recruiting national and regional organizations in the sports industry that brings the utmost economic impact to the local economy and the state of South Carolina. Prior to his current position, Auvis served as the executive director for the Union County Tourism Commission (UCTC) in South Carolina.

Rock Hill has been seen as a premier amateur sports destination for over 25 years. Starting with Cherry Park, Rock Hill has cemented itself with a superior reputation in the industry. In 2012, Rock Hill will be hosting the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships, and the AAU National Cross Country Championships. The latest development is the New Giordana Velodrome, which is hosting the 2012 and 2013 USA Cycling International Omnium Track National Championships at the New Rock Hill Outdoor Center located at Riverwalk. Rock Hill/York County, South Carolina is able to host large and small events because of outstanding private and local government partnerships.

“Having major highway access along with major attractions, such as Carowinds theme park and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, makes us an ideal choice for everyone,” said Auvis.

C. Alan Verlander, Jacksonville University (Florida)
Since Alan Verlander’s arrival at Jackson University (JU) in 2005, the fortunes of the athletics department have changed drastically as the programs have gained prominence in the community and nationally. JU has laid claim to 36 conference or state championship titles and made 24 appearances in NCAA Tournaments. The football program won the Pioneer Football League title for the first-time ever in 2008 and again in 2010, finishing the year ranked in the top 25 for the first time in the school’s history.

Verlander, who serves as athletic director, has worked hard to make all 21 teams successful in the classroom as well. Ensuring that teams meet and surpass the NCAA Academic Progress Rate bar is a goal for Verlander, coaches and students alike.
"My goals are to continually provide structure and leadership to help this athletic department grow and develop for the institution and Jacksonville community," Verlander said. "We are building on the great history and tradition of JU athletics while making our own history right now.”

Verlander graduated with his BA in speech communications from Samford University, where he earned three varsity letters in baseball. He obtained a master's degree in strategic communication and leadership from Seton Hall University.

Cheryl McCullough, Colorado Springs CVB (Colorado)
Cheryl McCullough has been with the Colorado Springs CVB for 14 years and has enjoyed working the sports and special events market since 2007. As a native of Colorado Springs, Cheryl has a wealth of knowledge and resources at the ready to assist event rights holders, tournament directors and event organizers with all their planning needs. She truly is the destination expert. Her enthusiasm for events large and small is easy to see. “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many great event organizers and planners – from National Governing Bodies, national sports organizations to grass roots, homegrown youth and amateur tournaments and competitions,” she said. Cheryl is a member of the board for the El Pomar Youth Sports Park located in Colorado Springs and currently serves on the Marketing Committee and Website Committee for the National Association of Sports Commissions.
Cheryl earned a Bachelor’s degree in sales and marketing in 2008 and lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, Kevin, and their daughter, Chelsea.

Whether it’s a youth sports group or prestigious athletic competition, Cheryl hits it out of the park every time. The planning is in the details and she’s there every step of the way.

Eva Dean Folkert, Hope College (Michigan)
Mention Holland, Michigan, as a destination city and one of the immediate responses from potential visitors is "Tulip Time," the community's internationally acclaimed springtime festival.

Increasingly, though, you can add "host city to national-caliber collegiate sporting events" to the array of reasons this college town is bustling year-round.

When you combine first-class venues with outstanding leadership and a community-wide volunteer spirit you have the perfect recipe for attracting NCAA championship events.

Since 2005, Holland, Michigan, and its Hope College have co-hosted five NCAA Division III championships, most recently the 2012 women's basketball final four. And there are three more NCAA championships committed to the community through 2013.

The organizational impetus for all this has been Hope College co-athletic director Eva Dean Folkert. A Hope College graduate, Folkert has served her alma mater for two decades as a coach, professor and athletics administrator.

"Eva's giving spirit is contagious and her organizational talent is simply amazing when you consider that the coordination of these national championship events is on top of all her other responsibilities for the college, “said Tom Renner, Hope public relations director.

He added, "Pulling off national championship events wouldn't happen without the leadership of Eva Dean Folkert."

Jennifer Doss, Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia (MHC) Tourism (Virginia)
Jennifer Doss is the director of tourism for Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia (MHC). She is a graduate of Longwood University and is studying to obtain a Tourism Marketing Professional (TMP) Certificate through the Southeast Tourism Society. She works for the MHC Economic Development Corporation and has been there for two years offering nearly 10 years of experience in the field of recreation tourism. Jennifer enjoys kayaking in her spare time and is one of the founding organizers of Smith River Fest, an outdoor recreation festival held the second weekend of August each year. Jennifer and her skilled team at the Martinsville-Henry County EDC’s Tourism Division work with community partners to promote area sports venues such as the Smith River Sports Complex, Hooker Field, the Smith River, Philpott Lake and others. The MHC’s full-service Tourism Division makes life easier for event planners coming to the area. Whether you’re looking for a sporting venue, need bids for host hotels, complementary welcome packets or a fun outing for your team, the Martinsville-Henry County EDC’s Tourism Division has you covered.

Jennifer Rothman, Long Island Sports Commission (New York)
The Long Island Sports Commission was formed in 1998 when the Empire State Games chose Long Island for their week-long event. Since then the Commission, now part of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (LICVB), has booked numerous major, collegiate, youth and amateur sporting events on Long Island.

Jennifer Rothman has been a sales manager with the LICVB for four years and brings with her a great passion for all sports.

Without the benefit of a convention center on Long Island, Jennifer learned how to facilitate large sporting events using Long Island’s colleges and universities, the Nassau County Aquatic Center, Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum and other independent sports venues.

By attending several sports trade shows throughout the year, Jennifer has brought major events to Long Island, including the Diva Half Marathon, ECAC Swimming & Diving Championships, dance championships and more. The Sports Commission also heavily supported the 2009 U.S. Open Golf Championship and supports the annual Belmont Stakes, the last leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the 2012 Barclays Golf Tournament, the 2013 Walker Cup and the 2013 Women’s U.S. Open Golf Championship.

Jennifer is in the process of completing her CSEE credentials.

Joel Koester, Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau (Illinois)
Joel Koester was recently hired by the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau as a sports sales executive. In his new position, Koester is responsible for attracting new sporting and specialty events to the Chicago Southland, generating overnight stays and associated visitor spending within the region. Koester is also involved in management of the Chicago Southland Sports Commission, a group of regional recreational, hospitality, venue and business leaders dedicated to bringing new and exciting sporting events into the region and its many sports venues.

Koester comes to the CVB from the Coyote Springs Golf Club in Coyote Springs, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas, where he worked as a sales and marketing manager. Before that, he interned with First Tee of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas and at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois. Koester, a native of Woodstock, Illinois, graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 2008 with a BA in Recreation and Sports Management.

“Joel is a great addition to our already strong sales team,” said President/CEO Jim Garrett of the Chicago Southland CVB, “his drive and passion for sports will help attract and close new sports business in the Chicago Southland.”

Larry Williams, Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau (North Carolina)
A native of Murfreesboro, North Carolina, Larry Williams studied Fine Art at the Philadelphia Art Institute and went on to earn an associate degree in Fashion Merchandising at Chowan University. Larry furthered his education at the University of North Carolina, Durham, earning a BA in Communications and Literature.

Williams pursued his tourism career in Durham, North Carolina, joining the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau as convention sales coordinator where he managed the tradeshow sales and marketing as well as social markets, to promote Durham as a travel destination. Five years later, Williams landed a position with the Kankakee County CVB as sales and marketing director and presently holds the executive director position.

Williams’ vision for Kankakee County has created much buzz throughout the Midwest region. He has spent the last three years branding Kankakee County as a leisure and sports destination. With his passion for the arts and culture, and his vision to create and promote the county’s rich heritage, Williams won this year’s Illinois Governor’s Conference on Tourism award for Best Tourism Marketing Campaign for Heritage Promotion.

Williams enjoys the arts, planning events, music, working with people who are underprivileged and community development. Williams hopes to continue his career discovering and developing destinations and communities.

Melyssa Laughlin (not pictured), Vacaville Conference & Visitors Bureau (California)
Melyssa Laughlin is executive director of California’s Vacaville Conference & Visitors Bureau.

Melyssa was born and raised in California’s Great Central Valley. She began her tenure in the tourism industry at the age of 10, where she learned about the world’s great destinations while filing brochures at the travel agency owned by her family. She also spent five years working for a tour operator before beginning her CVB career. Melyssa has been working for visitors bureaus in Northern California for the past 11 years, the last four as the executive director of the Vacaville Conference & Visitors Bureau.

Melyssa is very active in the tourism industry. She is currently serving as the president of the Central Valley Tourism Association and as an ambassador for the California Travel Association.
Along with her duties as executive director she loves to travel around the world and is the proud mother of her 14-year-old daughter, Alexys.

“Vacaville’s amazing location and fantastic amenities make it an ideal destination for sporting events of all kinds. We look forward to hosting you in our great city” she said.

Mike Smith, Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (Illinois)
Mike Smith, sports sales manager of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (PACVB), is a 2010 graduate of Bradley University with a Bachelor of Science in International Business.

While still attending Bradley, Mike was hired as sales intern for the PACVB where he worked his way up to become a full-time convention sales manager upon graduating from Bradley University.

After working with conventions for just over a year, he made the seamless transition to his current position. Mike is the go-to for all sporting events in the Peoria Area. Mike will do whatever it takes to assure your event “Plays in Peoria!”

Rachel Earls, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce (Arkansas)
As director of destination marketing for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, Rachel Earls is leading the effort to make Conway, Arkansas, a statewide and regional destination for youth sports.

Earls began her job at the Chamber in June 2011. She also works under the auspices of the Conway Convention & Visitors Bureau, serving as a liaison to the city’s Advertising and Promotion (A&P) Commission. Her experience, in addition to Conway’s sports complexes and educational institutions, is important to making youth sports a driving force for local tourism.

“Youth sporting events are the fastest-growing sector in travel and tourism,” Earls said. “Between our new sports complexes and our three colleges, I can see Conway being the go-to destination in Arkansas and surrounding states for youth sporting events.”

Conway is known throughout Arkansas as the “City of Colleges” which contributes to the city’s athletic scene.

In 2009, the City of Conway opened a five-field girls’ fast-pitch softball complex and a nine-field boys’ baseball park. The parks have already hosted a large number of sporting events and tournaments. For two consecutive years, parks and recreation professionals from across Arkansas have voted both of the complexes as the best in the state.

Ray Hoyt, VisitTulsa and Tulsa Sports Commission (Oklahoma)
Ray Hoyt, senior vice president of VisitTulsa and the Tulsa Sports Commission, is committed to enhancing the Tulsa region’s reputation as a sports destination.

Hoyt was integral in developing the AC Milan Heartland Cup. This youth soccer tournament in Tulsa (June 1-3, 2012) will feature premier domestic teams and multiple international teams from AC Milan’s elite youth program. The invitation-only tournament will continue annually, with plans to expand in the future.

The Tulsa Sports Commission bids for an array of sporting events, ranging from soccer and wrestling to fencing and bass fishing. Hoyt was integral in securing the 2013 Bassmaster Classic in the Tulsa region, garnering the biggest and most widespread impact since the TSC’s inception in 1993. The largest outdoor expo in the nation will fill the renovated Tulsa Convention Center with consumer activity while the BOK Center will host the exciting weigh-in action and anglers will fish on Grand Lake. This three-day event also allows the region to enhance its reputation as a premier fishing destination.

Hoyt continues to create a new atmosphere of exciting activity for the Tulsa metro region, and utilizes the premier facilities and attractions available in Tulsa to develop new events and exciting competitions in the area.

Rick Matchett, Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council (Texas)
Rick Matchett knows the sports scene in Amarillo, Texas, from high school coaches to area clubs to facility managers. Rick grew up in Texas Panhandle sports, first playing them, then coaching them and now umpiring youth baseball and refereeing youth basketball. He believes that team sports are one of the best ways for a person of any age to improve their physical and mental development.

He now brings that knowledge of athletics to clients of the Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council as the convention sales manager for the sports market, offering the best advice and help to people interested in Amarillo as a location for their sports event.

Rick is a Texas Tech graduate and has been in Amarillo since 1983, working in sales and management at many of the city’s radio and television stations. His job at the Amarillo CVC lets him combine his love of sports with his love of Amarillo.

He has become a leader in the Sports Texas consortium so visible at many national sports meetings. Many of his Texas colleagues look to him for advice and help. He is a one-stop shop for sports organizations looking to Amarillo for their events.

Robert Kawamoto, Tourism Toronto (Canada)
In 2004, Tourism Toronto, the official destination sales and marketing organization, diversified its meeting and conventions division to include sport event hosting. Over the past eight years, this segment has produced many successful sport events on provincial, regional, national and international levels. Greater Toronto has gained a reputation for access to first-class competition venues and providing superior overnight visitor service.

From the beginning, Robert Kawamoto, director of Sport Tourism, was tasked with developing a business plan, finding the right people and obtaining the right resources to bring a focus to sport event hosting.

“I think our destination has many great attributes, including great sport venues, facilities, fields and stadiums. We have excellent partners at all levels in government, and all tourism industry businesses, such as hotels, attractions, restaurants, professional sports teams and corporate sponsors.” Robert remarked. "The people that deliver the comforts of home, with small town hospitality in a big city setting from the visitors’ arrival, during the competition and the departure, truly make the entire experience memorable.”

Robert also highlighted his experienced team: “Shelley Crawford and Sonja Turek, both CSEE-designated professionals in sport event hosting, truly place Toronto above the rest when it comes to bidding and hosting your next event in our town.”

Seth Gaines, Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau (Mississippi)
Tupelo, centrally located in Northeast Mississippi, with major highway access and regional air service, is a premier destination in the South for sporting events. With eight years’ experience serving as director of sports development, Seth Gaines directs the athletic events with the Parks and Recreation in Tupelo. As a result, he understands all aspects of running sports events, from the beginning to the end. One of his major strengths is a firm grasp on working with national associations.

Seth’s broad experience includes helping to bring more than 20 national tournaments and events to Tupelo and providing the direction to make these events successful.

In addition to national events, Seth has successfully coordinated some of the largest youth and adult sporting events in Mississippi.

Gaines reminds potential visitors and event planners that Tupelo offers a number of attractions to keep everyone engaged during event down time. These include Tupelo Automobile Museum, Tupelo Buffalo Park and Elvis’s Birthplace.

Gaines’ enthusiasm for Tupelo is evident in his statement, “If you are considering a location for your next tournament or event, Tupelo is ready.” He said he looks forward to discussing Tupelo and its endless possibilities.

Shannon D. Johnson, Williamson County Tourism Bureau (Illinois)
Shannon D. Johnson began her journey with the Williamson County, Illinois, Tourism Bureau four years ago, during which time, as its executive director, she has demonstrated her extreme passion for seeing Southern Illinois recognized as a top destination in travel.

Since joining the bureau, Shannon has assisted in the development, marketing and growth of many events, which in turn have increased the economic impact of tourism for the Southern Illinois region.

Shannon has completed courses in the Certified Destination Management Executive program through Destination Marketing Association International and will soon be graduating. She is very active in the local Chambers of Commerce and serves as a director on several not-for-profit boards.

A native of Winter Haven, Florida who now resides in Marion, Illinois, Shannon believes, “Southern Illinois is full of hidden experiences; it’s my job to help you find the perfect combination to allow you to create a memory that will last a life time.”

Along with her duties as executive director, Shannon is the proud mother of a United States Airman and a loving wife. She has been the president of the Southern Illinois Hunting Retriever club for three years and enjoys playing with her black Labrador retriever, “Opie.”

Tara Hamburger, Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (Florida)
Speak with Tara Hamburger for more than a moment and the topic will turn to Daytona Beach as an exceptional venue for sports. As sales manager for the Daytona Beach Area CVB, a former soccer player, and now a mother of two active children, she ought to know.

“It’s an ideal location,” she said. “With spectacular beaches, dozens of athletic fields, five colleges and a state-of-the-art complex in the Ocean Center, Daytona Beach is hosting more events. Add to this the fact that many of our 12,000 guestrooms are in family-friendly hotels and we have a great airport, and the place sells itself.”

The Ocean Center hosts a variety of competitions—cheer and dance, gymnastics, volleyball, hockey, BMX, motocross, rodeo and basketball. The area also hosts every game under the sun—baseball, softball, running races, beach volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, water polo, fishing tournaments, and more. In addition, Daytona Beach is the home of NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway, LPGA, great golf courses and the USTA Florida Tennis Center.

As Tara Hamburger declared, “Bring your game to Daytona Beach and everybody wins.”

Terrance (Terry) Hasseltine, Maryland Office of Sports Marketing (Maryland)
Terry Hasseltine, CSEE, was appointed director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing (OSM) by Governor Martin O’Malley in July 2008. In 2010, he was recognized by the Maryland Daily Record: 2010 Most Influential Marylander – Civic Leadership. In 2011, he was named one of the 20 most powerful people in Baltimore by Baltimore Business Journal’s Power 20: The Next Generation.

Hasseltine has been instrumental in leading numerous bid-development and event-support opportunities for the state related to: 2022 FIFA World Cup ™; 2010, 2011 and 2014 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse National Championships; 2009 World Football Challenge; 2010 International Soccer Match; 2011 Dew Tour; 2013 and 2014 U.S. Youth Soccer Region I Championships; 2012 USATF Junior Olympics National Championships; 2013 USATF Masters Indoor National Championships; Baltimore Grand Prix and 2011, 2014 and 2016 Army-Navy football games.

Under Hasseltine’s leadership, OSM has engaged in over a billion dollars worth of economic recruitment activity and secured over $400 million worth of those activities.

Hasseltine is on the NASC board of directors and is a member of the executive committee.
OSM’s Mission is "enhance Maryland's economy, image and quality of life through the attraction, promotion, retention and development of regional, national and international sporting events."

Todd Gawronski, Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach (Wisconsin)
In summer 2012, Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach on Lake Michigan will host several national events including the US Open Junior Beach Volleyball National Championships, the Milwaukee Air & Water Show and the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Series.

The force behind this exciting summer line-up is native Milwaukeean Todd Gawronski. Todd’s passion for volleyball and former affiliation with USA Volleyball, combined with a dream of revitalizing the beach where he had grown up playing the game, led to the formation of his company, G1, Inc., in 2007.

According to Todd, “My love of volleyball has taken me to beaches all over the United States and beyond. Bradford Beach is among Milwaukee's greatest assets. It just needed a little love. And volleyball was the perfect fit in starting the process.”

Todd and G1 tackled environmental and safety issues and brought the beach back from a decade of decline. Today, sports leagues and special events draw thousands of athletes and beach-goers from across the United States to Milwaukee’s lakefront, and residents benefit from crossfit training, yoga, family programs and the Bradford Beach Jam sports and music festival.

Milwaukee is grateful to Todd Gawronski, a volleyball player with a heart for the community, for making Bradford Beach a national beach sports destination.



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