This summer, Tournament Town will welcome its biggest event yet. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympic Games are expected to bring as many as 18,000 young athletes between the ages of four and 19 to Greensboro, North Carolina. The 10-day event, slated for July 24-August 3, features 18 sports, requires 1,500 volunteers and will account for an anticipated 34,000 hotel room nights.
“It’s a huge endeavor,” says Brian Ambuehl, national sports sales manager for the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But it’s also a feather in our cap that adds to our résumé and shows other event organizers that we have top-notch, state-of-the-art facilities. If we can accommodate the AAU Junior Olympic Games, there’s not much we can’t do.”
Indeed, this endeavor is tailor-made for Greensboro, which is hosting its first-ever AAU Junior Olympic Games.
With the majority of athletes competing in track and field events, AAU officials needed a destination with a world-class venue that offers enough spectator seating to accommodate large crowds. They found both with the outdoor BB&T Stadium and Irwin Belk Track at North Carolina A&T State University, which opened in 2004, is IAAF-certified and holds 23,000 fans.
The track facility, enhanced by a high-definition video board, has also hosted several high-profile NCAA and USA Track & Field meets, as well as the New Balance Outdoor Nationals (a prestigious high school invitational) and Powerade State Games (North Carolina’s largest multi-sport festival and one of the largest state games programs in the United States).
The majority of other AAU Junior Olympic Games competition will take place at the 75-acre Greensboro Coliseum Complex — eight buildings that include a 22,000-seat arena, a 167,000-square-foot special events center, a 78,000-square-foot aquatic center and a 38,000-square-foot fieldhouse.
Open since 1959, the publicly operated facility has undergone numerous renovations and expansions over the years, and it now hosts more than 1,100 events annually — everything from volleyball and gymnastics to figure skating and wrestling. It offers 6,000 parking spaces and consistently receives high praise from athletes, event planners and spectators.
A major component of the massive complex is the Greensboro Aquatic Center, affectionately referred to as “the GAC.” An $8.2 million expansion is slated for completion later this year and will result in the addition of a fourth 50-meter eight-lane pool that also can accommodate 11 lanes for either 25-meter or 25-yard competitions. The new pool will help future aquatic event bids, while also maintaining heavy demands for local programming.
Other pools in the GAC include a 50-meter-by-25-yard competition pool with eight long-course lanes and 16 to 22 short-course lanes and seating to accommodate more than 2,000 spectators, a 25-yard six-lane warm-up/cool-down pool and a diving well with eight diving apparatus and six 25-yard swimming lanes.
Other AUU Junior Olympic Games events — including taekwondo and karate, basketball, weightlifting, trampoline and tumbling, rhythmic gymnastics and wrestling — will take place throughout the rest of the Coliseum Complex. (Field hockey will be held at Wake Forest University’s Kentner Stadium, located about 35 miles west of Greensboro.)
Ambuehl says the fact that the Coliseum Complex houses its own mats is a tremendous advantage when bidding for wrestling events. “Transporting mats to an event site is a difficult and costly task for organizers to deal with,” he says. “Having them onsite is huge.”
The same thing goes for basketball and volleyball; the complex stores the playing surfaces, standards, goals, score clocks and other equipment that event organizers would likely need to acquire for use at other sites.
Another added benefit of bringing the AAU Junior Olympic Games to Greensboro? “Our Coliseum Complex and Aquatic Center are all in the same footprint and only about five miles from the Irwin Belk track facility,” Ambuehl says. “Location of our facilities within a tight radius is a big plus for multi-sport events.”
Diversity Is Key
The Greensboro Coliseum Complex is the most prominent and versatile sports venue Greensboro offers. Next March, it will perform college basketball’s trifecta by hosting the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments and the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament over the course of three busy weeks.
Basketball has long been a mainstay of Tournament Town and is how the city earned that nickname. The Greensboro Coliseum has hosted the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament 26 times and the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament 18 times — both conference records — and it was the site of a breathtaking Men’s Final Four in 1974, when North Carolina State upset UCLA in the semifinals.
The Greensboro Coliseum Complex also will host the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and the Greensboro Aquatic Center recently welcomed the 2019 Synchro America Open, a premier international event that showcased some of the best artistic swimmers in the world. The facility also will be the site of the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving National Championships.
But other Greensboro venues also reflect Tournament Town’s mission. The Koury Convention Center hosted the 2019 World Irish Dancing Championships in April, the PGA TOUR’s Wyndham Championship will take place at Sedgefield Country Club in late July, and the 21-field Bryan Park Soccer Complex will be the site of an Elite Clubs National League Girls’ National Playoff in June 2020.
"Currently, we have 89 hotels with over 10,100 rooms and by 2020 four additional hotels will be added," Ambuehl notes.
During the AAU Junior Olympic Games, athletes, coaches and their families will have access to plenty of Greensboro’s offerings around the city. The destination boasts 135 attractions as varied as art galleries, dinner theaters, breweries, agritourism sites and multiple shopping districts, plus more than 500 restaurants. And First National Bank Field, located about three miles from the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, is home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers Class A farm team for Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates.
Popular family-friendly attractions include Celebration Station, featuring go-karts, bumper boats, miniature golf, batting cages, and video and arcade games; the Greensboro Children’s Museum, with more than 20 interactive exhibits; the Greensboro Science Center, which offers an all-in-one aquarium, museum and zoo; and Wet’N Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park, one of the Carolinas’ largest water parks.
Fishing, kayaking, canoeing, sailing and rowboating opportunities can be found in the Greensboro area, too, at Lake Brandt, Lake Higgins and Lake Townsend. Those looking to combine sports with history can take the walking Carolina History and Haunts Tour, visit the International Civil Rights Center or view the Blandwood Mansion, completed in the 1790s and considered one of America’s great historic homes.
‘We Can Handle It’
Greensboro was awarded the bid in 2012 to host the AAU Junior Olympic Games and became part of the five-city rotation that will host two AAU Games within a 10-year span. Since 2012, representatives from the Greensboro CVB and the facilities hosting this summer’s events have attended the Games in the other four host cities: Hampton Roads, Virginia; Houston; Detroit; and Des Moines, Iowa.
“We wanted to see the sheer scope of this event,” Ambuehl says. “We feel confident we can handle it.”
Of course, Greensboro is no stranger to hosting large-scale, multi-day events, including the 2017 and 2018 Powerade State Games and the 2016 USA Masters Games. But the AAU Junior Olympic Games will top them both in participation and attendance numbers, according to Ambuehl. “This will be the largest event we’ve ever hosted.” SDM