Gymnastics is a sport seemingly impervious to unpopularity. Clubs across the country are flourishing and the sport continues to grow, according to Cheryl Jarrett, vice president of member services for USA Gymnastics.
“New clubs are also opening, which provides opportunities for new children to learn and enjoy gymnastics,” she says.
It helps that many programs start kids early, often in preschool settings.
“Gymnastics clubs offer a wide range of classes and programs, from mom-and-me, pre-school, recreational and competitive programs, with several competitive options,” says Jarrett. “Both men’s and women’s programs are leading the way for growth with new grassroots, competitive team programs. We’re also excited that the HUGS program, which is tailored for athletes with special needs, is growing as well.”
Regardless of the type of gymnastics, a combination of factors is necessary to make a facility desirable beyond just a location, says Ron Galimore, COO of USA Gymnastics.
“Event organizers looking for locations to host regional and national events love venues with easy-access loading docks with large bay doors, plenty of unobstructed floor space for equipment setup, built-in seating (telescopic preferably), high ceilings and technology, including digital video boards, LED displays and high-speed Internet,” he says.
Venues that are either contiguous or within walking distance to hotels and restaurants make life easy for both staff and participants, often eliminating the need for transportation. A strong local sports commission and/or CVB that can help with local communication and outreach as well as provide grants is the last piece of the puzzle. Following are some regions that present a strong showing of resources for gymnastics events.
Each winter for the past four years, the Branson Convention Center has been home to the Branson Classic Gymnastics event, a USAG-sanctioned event for levels 1 through 10. Branson lies 40 miles south of Springfield in the Ozark Mountains, and its location means it’s less than a one-day drive for one-third of the country. The Branson Convention Center, which has a total of 220,000 feet of flexible space, features an ideal area of 47,000 feet of contiguous space with 35-foot ceilings connected to an additional 22,000 square feet of ballroom space that is carpeted and suited for mat sports.
“The exhibit hall and the banquet hall area are connected by a big open space with great lighting,” said Terra Alphonso, director of sports marketing and development for the Branson/Lakes Area CVB. “Groups have used that for networking or registration area, depending on the event’s needs.”
There are over 20,000 lodging units in the area, as well as a variety of campgrounds and RV parks. Nearby are golf courses, amusement parks and museums. This year, nearby Silver Dollar City Theme Park added a new roller coaster called “The Time Traveler.”
Branson’s CVB is experienced in event planning.
“We work with a lot of event planners to provide clear welcome backpacks as opposed to bags,” says Alphonso. “We include deals from our local businesses, and we can coordinate speakers. Branson is unique: we have over 150 shows this year, so we can get entertainers to welcome groups or do other events.”
Kentucky Exposition Center, Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville has shown it has what it takes to sponsor a large gymnastics event. In 2014, the Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC) hosted the USA Gymnastics Championships. In February 2019, Kentucky Gymnastics Academy will host the KGA Winter Classic at the KICC. The convention center isn’t the only venue suited for gymnastics, however.
The 1.2 million-square-foot Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) can accommodate gymnastics events of all shapes and sizes. In October, the facility will host the 2018 World Spirit Federation All-Star Cheer & Dance Championship.
“The Kentucky Expo Center is perfectly suited for gymnastics competitions,” said KEC’s Dave Patrone. “We have a variety of spaces perfect for the varying needs of gymnastic disciplines; the arenas have tall ceilings with permanent seating perfect for tumbling and trampoline. Our exhibit halls have enough clear-span space, which is perfect for acrobatic gymnastics.”
For off-hours, there is the nearby Kentucky Kingdom/Hurricane Bay Amusement park, Churchill Downs Racetrack, the Louisville Zoo and the Muhammad Ali Center. The region features 4,469 hotel rooms and Louisville International Airport is two minutes from the KEC. Event planners can utilize both the resources of KEC and local community organizations.
“At the Kentucky Expo Center, we work directly with the Louisville CVB to provide assistance with housing, volunteers, city concierges and more,” says Patrone.
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
In Lehigh Valley, gymnastics means the Parkettes National Gymnastics Training Center in Allentown, which has produced national champions and Olympians. Now in its 44th year, the Parkettes Invitational is one of the oldest and most prestigious competitions in the country and welcomes gymnasts and coaches from across the U.S. and abroad. The center, which features 32,000 square feet and state-of-the-art equipment, also hosts the Annual Brian Babcock Memorial Invitational (formerly known as the Parkettes Boys Invitational).
Aside from Parkettes, Lehigh Valley has other facilities for gymnastics. The PPL Center is a new, state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena with seating for more than 8,000 in Allentown. Stabler Arena at Lehigh University hosts a variety of indoor events as well and has a seating capacity of 6,200. Lehigh Valley also has five colleges and universities, as well as two junior colleges, all with substantial gymnasium facilities.
Lehigh Valley has a variety of hotels and inns, particularly along Interstate 78 and Pennsylvania State Routes 22, 309, and 33. Accommodations are close to attractions such as Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, Sands Bethlehem and the Crayola Experience. There are also golf resorts, campgrounds and vacation rentals, as well as wineries, breweries and outdoor activities.
Michael Kuzy, director of sports travel marketing for Discover Lehigh Valley, said his organization provides all the services of a good sports commission.
“We’ll help with securing hotel inventories and get the best rate,” he says. “We do PR and promotions, both traditional and social media, leading up to events. If possible, we’ll try to attach a sponsorship to it.”
The Lubbock Civic Center is a regular host for the Texas Games, a USAG-sanctioned trampoline and tumbling competition, as well as the Annual USAG Extreme Winter Classic, which attracts about 500 competitors. In 2009 and 2014, Lubbock hosted the USA Gymnastics Region 3 Championships.
The Lubbock Civic Center is a 40,000-square-foot column-free exhibit space with seating for 3,000, dressing rooms and a sound system. Lubbock is both centrally located and has an international airport as well as approximately 6,000 hotel rooms at all price points.
“We’re a great drive-in location,” says Scott Harrison, sports director for Visit Lubbock.
For off-hours, Lubbock is home to the National Ranching Heritage Center, the Silent Wings Museum and the Buddy Holly Center. It also has amusement and water parks, discovery centers and park facilities for families. Visit Lubbock can perform a variety of functions to assist event planners.
“Depending on what event planners are looking for, we try and accommodate the best we can,” says Harrison.
Rocky Mount Event Center, North Carolina
Rocky Mount North Carolina is eagerly awaiting the opening of its 165,000-square-foot Rocky Mount Event Center. Construction began on the center in 2016, and the multi-use facility is scheduled to open later this year. The facility was designed to be configurable for many events, including gymnastics. The forum has 75,000 square feet of floor space, as well as four locker rooms, team meeting rooms, concessions and an observation deck.
“There is no limit as to what indoor sports we can host,” says Ashley Pittman, Marketing Manager for Rocky Mount Event Center. “The Event Center can accommodate any size gymnastics competition. Big or small, regional or national, we’re the place to hold any competition. We have room for over 4,000 spectators.”
While there is much to do outside the event center in the Rocky Mount area, the event center will come with its own built-in attractions: Gameday Adventure and Arcade, a 15,000-square-foot area to include themed rock climbing, an aerial ropes course, a soft play area for young children, an arcade and a concession area.
The area around the event center has 2,500 hotel rooms, over 100 restaurant options and entertainment activities. It’s a flexible drive-in location situated off I-95 and US 64. The adjacent Rocky Mount Sports Complex has a park and trails for outdoor activities, a golf course, a spray park and a pool.
Tucked in to the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Sevierville is an affordable destination that has hosted many gymnastics events. In November, Sevierville was home to the K-Town Showdown, a USAG Women’s trampoline and tumbling event. In June, it hosted the Xcel Championships Gymnastics Invitational. Both events attracted 120 competitors and 180 spectators to the Sevierville Convention Center. The center is also home to the Smoky Mountain Gymnastics Vacation Classic, which typically draws 200 competitors.
The Sevierville Convention Center features a 108,245-square-foot exhibit hall with a 32-foot ceiling. It can be divided into two halls and includes meeting rooms, concourses and pre-function space. It connects to a hotel property and Wilderness at the Smokies Water Park Resort. Other facilities nearby include the Sevierville Civic Center, a 7,500-square-foot multi-purpose meeting facility with portable seating for up to 300 people.
There are 700 hotel rooms within the Sevierville Convention Center complex alone and 2,780 hotel rooms in the wider area. For off-hours, Sevierville features the all-new Sevierville Golf Club with two championship courses and a nine-hole experience, an aquatics center, nearby Dollywood, the NASCAR SpeedPark and The Tennessee Museum of Aviation.
“Within a day’s drive of over half the nation’s population east of the Mississippi and tucked in to the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Sevierville is beautiful, fun-filled and affordable, and happy to accommodate the needs of gymnastics events,” says Amanda Marr, director of marketing and communications for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce.
The Tri-Cities area of Washington is (interestingly) named for four cities – West Richland, Pasco, Kennewick and Richland – located in eastern Washington where the Yakima, Snake and Columbia Rivers meet. The area has proven to be rich for gymnastics events.
Garland’s Gymnastics, a local club, annually hosts the Rod Ostboe Memorial Invitational at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick. The youth event attracts about 500 gymnasts from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, as well as 850 people from out of town. Garland’s Gym also hosts about 700 gymnasts annually at the Washington State Compulsory Championships at the Southridge Sports and Events Complex in Kennewick. Finally, the Mid-Columbia Gymnastics Academy in Richland hosts USAG’s Washington Boys State Championships in March.
The Three Rivers Convention Center features 75,000 square feet of space, with its largest hall at 21,600 feet. The Southridge Sports and Events Complex in Kennewick is an indoor pavilion with 21,000 square feet of space for events. A third option, the 44,000-square-foot TRAC Center in Pasco, is also available for gymnastics events thanks to recently upgraded floors.
Hector Cruz, vice president of Visit Tri-Cities Washington, says the region is adding another event to its portfolio next year.
“We’ll be hosting the Washington State Gold/Platinum/Diamond XCEL Championships. That will take place in March of 2019 at Southridge, and we expect it will attract about 700 to 750 gymnasts.”
For off-hours, the region features golf courses, outdoor water sports and a trail system. There are also theaters, a planetarium and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The area has over 4,000 hotel rooms and four downtown areas for diverse dining and shopping. Visit Tri-Cities helps event planners negotiate the four cities.
“With four cities, there are a lot of resources available, but it can be difficult for planners,” says Cruz. “We provide a one-stop shop service for planners. With the help of the Tri-Cities Sports Council, we can help planners search for venues and lodging and give them local support and other community resources.” SDM