1 Jul, 2020By: Michael Popke
Despite COVID-19, Lacrosse Destinations Stand Ready to Host Events
The odds of the largest annual lacrosse event in the summertime tourist region of Lake George, New York, happening this year are about 50/50. That’s according to Kristen Hanifin, special events and convention sales director for the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce & CVB. Originally slated for early July, the 2020 PrimeTime Lacrosse Lake George National Invitational at Golden Goal Sports Park in Fort Ann, New York, was rescheduled for early August because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve having almost weekly conversations with the organizers,” Hanifin told Sports Destination Management. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty, but we pride ourselves on our constant contact and communication. We’re a small CVB, and we can offer a personalized touch.”
Part of that personalized touch includes “thinking creatively about ways we can still hold events,” Hanifin says. Working options for the PrimeTime invitational include teaming with parks and recreation officials in surrounding communities to potentially hold games at multiple sites rather than only at Golden Goal in an effort to promote social distancing.
Even then, there’s no guarantee the all-boys event will be held this year. A final decision was expected by mid-July and was dependent on which phase of a four-phase reopening plan the State of New York would be in at that time. (Golden Goal, in addition to offering four synthetic turf fields and four grass fields, also features an Olympics-inspired Athletes Village and medical center.)
“We will do whatever we can to save the event and make it happen because I know how important it is for kids to participate,” says Hanifin, a former lacrosse parent whose CVB team has worked steadfastly, consulting with area hotels regarding appropriate cleaning and social distancing protocols. “I also want to be as much of a resource to our rightsholders and stakeholders as possible. Plus, it’s really important to keep our community informed, because we’ll have people coming in from out of town — places that might have been coronavirus hotspots. The pandemic is forcing us to be more creative and innovative about how we host all sports. We can’t do things the way we’ve done them before.”
Participant safety, while always a top priority for sports event organizers and hosts, will be even more so going forward. One-day tournaments and state-only competitions may become the norm, at least initially.
US Lacrosse’s Return to Play Plan
Lacrosse easily qualifies as one of America’s fastest-growing team sports. According to US Lacrosse, national participation nearly topped 830,000 active players in 2018 — an increase of 277 percent since 2001. The sport first took hold in the Northeast but has since expanded to the west and the south.
The largest increases are happening at the high school, college and professional levels. Between 2013 and 2018 (the latest year for which data is available), US Lacrosse noted a 21 percent increase in the number of high schools sponsoring boys’ lacrosse and a 26 percent increase among those introducing girls’ lacrosse. The numbers are similar at the men’s and women’s collegiate levels, where more than 170 programs were added between 2014 and 2018.
In late May, US Lacrosse announced a five-stage set of return-to-play recommendations, which can be found at www.uslacrosse.org/return-to-play. All guidelines, association officials stress, should align with state and local public health guidelines. The five stages are:
• Stage 1: At-home training when public gatherings of any size are prohibited.
• Stage 2: Modified small-group activities for less than 10 participants. Social distancing requirements will be in effect.
• Stage 3: Modified outdoor intra-squad scrimmages/practices for medium-size groups of less than 50 participants. Limited closeness and contact should be emphasized.
• Stage 4: Competition at outdoor or indoor facilities among teams from the same geographical area, with an emphasis on limited closeness and contact. Group size should be limited to 50 people.
• Stage 5: Larger group gatherings of more than 50 people and full competition resumption among teams from different geographical areas.
“Our guiding principles … were to compile and use relevant scientific research and follow the COVID-19 public health guidance provided by the CDC, WHO and other state and local public health authorities,” Eugene Hong, chair of the US Lacrosse Sport Science & Safety Committee, as well as chair of the medical advisory committee that developed the guidelines, said in a statement. “These recommendations provide a strong foundation for lacrosse programs to plan for a gradual return; the guidance will most certainly evolve over time, as information about COVID-19 remains fluid and every community will be at a different phase of return.”
‘Bring Some Normalcy Back’
Lacrosse destinations — which are in various stages of the reopening processes as determined by state and local authorities — are readying for the sport’s return.
“We are implementing new procedures and policies to ensure participants and visitors are safe,” says Shellie Kichler, marketing and sales director for Foley Sports Tourism in Alabama. “We are requiring all events to adhere to social distancing requirements, adding additional signage and hand-sanitization stations, and encouraging everyone to wear a mask and bring a water bottle.”
In Round Rock, Texas, local sports tourism officials used the shutdown of youth sports to improve lacrosse fields and other facilities. “We are continuing multiple construction projects, including a new Kalahari Resorts & Conventions center that is under construction and will be opening in November,” says Nancy Yawn, director of the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex fields have been aerated and groomed and are ready to be played on.”
“These are still uncertain times in many areas, but we are hopeful youth sports can help bring some normalcy back,” adds Chris O’Brien, director of sports marketing and special events for Visit Panama City Beach in Florida.
Indeed, long-established volleyball destinations such as Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as well as newer markets such as Panama City Beach and Elizabethtown, Kentucky, are actively seeking lacrosse competitions.
State of Maryland
For the past 16 years, the State of Maryland counts lacrosse as its official team sport. Not only is it home to US Lacrosse in Sparks, but it also boasts several complexes that host high-profile events. Those facilities include the Maryland Soccer Complex in Boyds (21 grass fields and three synthetic turf fields), Cedar Lane Regional Park in Bel Air (12 grass and one synthetic turf field), Blandair Regional Park in Columbia (three synthetic turf fields) and Troy Park in Elkridge (two synthetic turf fields).
“Lacrosse continues to grow in the state,” says Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports. “We are centrally located in the mid-Atlantic along the I-95 corridor, and we’re easily assessible — within a day’s drive — from a significant base of the U.S population.”
Maryland has hosted multiple NCAA men’s and women’s lacrosse championships, the US Lacrosse Women’s National Tournament and the Under Armour All-American Lacrosse Classic. The state also is set to welcome the 2021 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship and the 2021 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse National Championship, both at Towson University.
Another destination for high-profile lacrosse tournaments is FST Fields in Foley. The outdoor complex features 16 grass fields (including a championship field) and is equipped with TV-ready lighting and seating for up to 1,000.
The complex has hosted Gulf Coast Lacrosse Conference events, which draw youth players from across the Southeast, as well as the Battle by the Bay, which attracted teams from as far away as Florida and Texas, according to Shellie Kichler.
“Lacrosse continues to grow in the South,” she says. “In Foley, we’re seeing a rise in teams attending events, as well as planners coming to us with new ideas for events, like the Battle by the Bay. That event brought together collegiate teams from different conferences of the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association. It was the first time the two conferences had that many teams in one place at one time. and they’re hoping to grow it next year. The key is…to give teams the competition they are craving,” Kichler says. “We want to let them know we can help them find ways to compete.”
Round Rock, Texas
The staff at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex also is eager to accommodate lacrosse tournaments, according to Nancy Yawn. The facility offers four synthetic turf fields and four grass fields, as well as two championship fields (one turf and one grass).
The complex hosted the 2018 US Lacrosse Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Championships, and Round Rock was awarded the bid for that event in 2020 and 2021. (Unfortunately, the 2020 competition, slated for early May, was canceled because of COVID-19.) However, the facility also is tapped to host the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Championships in 2021 and 2022.
“Round Rock is gaining recognition as a destination for lacrosse tournaments, and our reputation has been growing over the years,” Yawn says. “We are seeing an increase in event inquiries, and multiple organizations are running recurring lacrosse events with us.”
Rocky Top Sports World
The six synthetic turf fields and one grass field at Rocky Top Sports World are located against a backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains, and they’ve hosted a broad range of youth and college events.
Earlier this year, before the pandemic shut down youth sports, the facility introduced the February Face Off, a preseason scrimmage and camp for middle and high school girls’ lacrosse teams from east Tennessee. Rocky Top also hosts the Battle in the ‘Burg over Halloween for girls’ teams, and it was scheduled to welcome for the first time the Bearpaw Lacrosse Smoky Mountain Shootout for boys’ and men’s teams this August.
“With the sport of lacrosse growing and becoming more popular in the Southeast, we have seen a growth in interest from both event organizers and teams,” says Jim Downs, general manager of Rocky Top Sports World. “The first year we put on Battle in the ‘Burg, we only saw 10 teams attend, but this past year we saw that number triple.”
On the Radar and Growing
Among the destinations working to boost their status in the lacrosse community are Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and Panama City Beach, Florida.
The $40 million Panama City Beach Complex opened last year and boasts nine synthetic turf fields and four grass fields. Visit Panama City Beach owns the venue, which is managed by a third party, and Chris O’Brien says he hopes it will help the city become a go-to lacrosse destination in much the same way the city attracts high-profile soccer, field hockey and flag football events.
Meanwhile, the Elizabethtown Sports Park (which opened in 2012) is making a major play to attract lacrosse events to its 10 grass fields and two synthetic turf championship fields.
“Although we do not have a huge presence in lacrosse right now, we recognize the growth occurring, and we think we have an ideal location and park setup to facilitate lacrosse teams in tournaments, leagues, and possibly larger regional and national events,” says Matt Howe, the park’s director of events and operations, adding that the park plans to bid on tournaments, as well as create its own. “We are two hours away in every direction from large markets, so we feel we are centrally located for them to meet in the middle.” SDM