In the Heartland, Ready to Host
1 Nov, 2019By: Cindy Cantrell
The Midwest has long been favored by residents and tourists alike for its diverse geography, affordability, high quality of life and friendly residents. America’s Heartland is also home to some of the best sports teams in the country, with more coming all the time.
Following are just a sampling of the exciting sports destinations that await.
Mid-America Center, Iowa
Located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just minutes from downtown Omaha, the Mid-America Center has hosted top names in sports, show business and community events.
At 30,000 square feet, the arena seats 8,000 for concerts and 6,700 for rodeos, motorsports and arena football, including 100 club seats, 12 luxury suites and two party rooms.
The convention center features 64,000 square feet of meeting space, a 24,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 23,000-square-foot ballroom, 15,000-square-foot pre-function area, extensive banquet seating and eight meeting rooms. Free parking for 2,600 vehicles surround the complex.
“Our capability to house all types of events is something that really makes the Mid-America Center stand out,” says Robert McCracken, marketing entertainment manager at Caesars Entertainment Corporation, which has managed the facility since 2012. “Having the arena, exhibit hall and banquet rooms affords event planners and tournament organizers the capability of utilizing those spaces for a wide variety of activities during their event.”
Greater Grand Forks, Minnesota and North Dakota
Greater Grand Forks is comprised of two cities in two states: East Grand Forks, Minnesota and Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The region boasts more than 2,400 hotel rooms and several major venues, some of which provide home court advantage for University of North Dakota sports programs. Others have hosted world championships in men’s curling and junior ice hockey, the 2019 Collegiate Drone Racing Championship, 2017 Midwestern and Pacific Coast Synchronized Skating Championships, Rollin’ on the River Inline Marathon, Scheels Boundary Battle Catfish Tournament and END-WET, a 36-mile ultra swim marathon on the Red River of the North.
Yet most distinctive, according to Grand Forks Visitors Bureau sales manager Stephanie Bernstrom, are free services for event organizers including sign printing, generators, sound systems, race clocks, safety vests, inflatable arches, housing coordination, registration assistance and event funding.
“Our community offers the best service in the country,” Bernstrom says, “which is why events are able to begin and grow.”
O’Fallon Family Sports Park, Illinois
The O’Fallon Family Sports Park, located 15 minutes from St. Louis and conveniently off Interstate 64 in O’Fallon, Illinois, is a world-class, 200-acre sports and recreation complex ideal for tournaments, league and exhibition games, academics, camps, clinics and special events. The Sports Park is surrounded by several upscale hotels and a large variety of nearby restaurants within minutes of the facility.
The soccer complex boasts eight lighted, all-weather synthetic turf fields, an all-weather turf championship field, four premium grass fields and two convertible all-weather fields. The baseball complex offers eight lighted baseball fields, as well as two championship all-weather synthetic turf fields designed by the creators of Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.
A Perry Weather Lightning Detection siren is onsite with 24/7 access to Perry Weather meteorologists and real-time data for proactive weather preparation during game play. Other amenities include four concession stands, two playgrounds, a splash pad, a 2.1-mile lighted walking/running path and fishing ponds.
“We’ve got the safety of a small town with all the big-city amenities,” says Kristen Pelley, recreation supervisor for the O’Fallon Family Sports Park.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
In the heart of Eastern Iowa, Cedar Rapids is continuing to expand beyond mainstream sports into niche markets.
In additional to hosting NCAA Division II and Division III women’s volleyball and wrestling championships, the U.S. Cellular Center presented the 2017 International Jugglers Association Annual Festival – which is returning in 2022. The Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, featuring an NHL arena and Olympic rink, has drawn the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association Championships, National Horseshoe Pitchers Association World Tournament and USA Curling Arena National Championships.
Veterans Memorial Stadium is home to the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, while the Tuma Soccer Complex hosted the 2018 US Quidditch Midwest Regional Championship. Other facilities feature cross-country, baseball, a Miracle Field for athletes with disabilities and walking trails such as those found at Mount Trashmore Park, a closed landfill repurposed into a scenic overlook.
“We’re proud of the sports products we’ve developed,” says Mary Lee Malmberg, director of sports tourism for Cedar Rapids Tourism, “and we’re just as excited that families appreciate our strong arts, culture, culinary and craft brewery scene.”
The Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, metropolitan area is a world-class sporting event destination. Situated at the interchanges of interstates 55, 74 and 39, and only two hours from Chicago and St. Louis, the vibrant community is known for its centrally desirable location and Midwestern hospitality.
Numerous regional, national and international tournaments and sporting events have taken place at the range of sporting facilities, which includes stadiums, arenas, baseball, softball and soccer fields and complexes, an ice center, swimming pools, university facilities and parks and recreation grounds.
Matt Hawkins, sports director of the Bloomington-Normal Area Sports Commission, says the locale’s charming communities are both historic and modern, celebrated by numerous Abraham Lincoln sites, Route 66 nostalgia, trendy eateries and state-of-the-art athletic facilities.
“The expert team at the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and Sports Commission provides numerous services to help you plan your event, and ensure your attendees have a wonderful experience,” he says.
Hamilton County, Indiana
It is said that Hamilton County, Indiana, doesn’t just have something for everyone – it has something just for you. It’s easy to see why, when considering all the reasons to visit the cities of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield and northern towns of Atlanta, Arcadia, Cicero and Sheridan – on or off the field.
Combined, the county offers more than 150 multi-purpose fields, 80 baseball/diamond facilities, 4,200 hotel rooms, 90 locally owned restaurants and numerous national chains.
Other activities include more than 500 miles of trails and a range of attractions for family fun – all located within a day’s drive of 50 percent of the U.S. population.
“Hamilton County’s premier facilities offer amazing flexibility to host the full spectrum of sporting events, from traditional to niche events, all the while providing an incredible variety of activities and restaurants for families to enjoy while visiting,” said John Towle, sports development manager for the Hamilton County Sports Authority.
South Bend, Indiana
Football and other home games at the University of Notre Dame draw visitors from across the country to South Bend, Indiana. Yet professional events, niche markets such as cornhole and pickleball and youth sports including ice hockey, soccer, lacrosse, swimming and baseball contribute to a dynamic, year-round sports scene.
Four Winds Field, known for its family-friendly promotions, is home to the South Bend Cubs, a Class A affiliate of the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. The five-diamond Byers Softball Complex has hosted numerous fast- and slow-pitch softball events, including three visits by the U.S. Women’s Olympic softball team and multiple USA Softball national championships.
When families aren’t at the field or rink, they can enjoy the South Bend River Lights, museums, whitewater rafting, breweries and a vibrant downtown dining scene.
“There’s no shortage of attractions to keep families busy for the duration of their stay,” says Nick Kleva, sports market development manager of Visit South Bend Mishawaka.
Wichita, Kansas, is a top sports city with facilities and events that keep fans coming back.
In 2019, Wichita shattered all attendance and ticket sales records in the six-year history of The Basketball Tournament, drawing 20,000 fans to the region.
In 2020, the city will host the NAIA Men’s Wrestling National Championship, the ECHL Hockey All-Star Game, a pair of U.S. Figure Skating events and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s Toyota National Championship Series. Also in 2020, the Miami Marlin’s new Triple-A ballpark will open.
Basketball fans who flocked to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament in 2018 will get another taste of March Madness, as the INTRUST Bank Arena will once again host the first and second rounds in 2021. The women’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will visit in 2022. And in July of 2020, Wichita will be one of four host sites for the second annual NCAA College Basketball Academies.
“Wichita is a lively destination for sports, with attractions of all kinds for teams, families and fans to enjoy,” says Brian Hargove, executive director of sports development for Visit Wichita. SDM
Perry, OKLAHOMA: Play on the Heartland’s Best Diamonds
Perry, Oklahoma, is the heart of the heartland and its baseball diamonds simply shine. The Perry BMAC Baseball Complex, named in honor of local baseball star Brendon “BMAC” McLarty, redefines sports hospitality. This modern, four-field facility features top-flight amenities perfect for hosting small to medium-sized tournaments – and giving everyone a big-league experience.
The venue has lush Bermuda grass fields and top-of-the-line pitching mounds. The Toro 3575 Reel Mower, the same as used by the Minnesota Twins at Target Field, keeps the infield grass pristine. And with plenty of housing (some hotels are even within walking distance of the BMAC – and there are camping and RV facilities as well) and a fun downtown, Perry is ready to make everyone feel like they’re on the home team.
The city of Perry itself provides some great opportunities for players and their families between games and after the last out. The Cherokee Strip Museum gives the history of the settlement of Perry and the surrounding area and includes a blacksmith shop with demonstrations. There’s more, too! Check out www.cityofperryok.com.