Looking for the perfect setting for your next sports event? Look no further than Lake Erie Shores & Islands in northern Ohio.
Known as America’s Sports and Family Fun Capital®, the area has everything athletes, families, spectators and event organizers need and want — world-class sports facilities, top-notch attractions, stunning lakefront scenery and much more.
“We’re fortunate to have an attractive location combined with excellent sports and entertainment venues,” says Larry Fletcher, Lake Erie Shores & Islands president. “Many of our facilities and attractions are new within the past year, further adding to the appeal of our destination. For athletes, no matter the age, the Lake Erie Shores & Islands area offers state-of-the-art competition venues to help individuals and teams perform at their best. And for families traveling with athletes, you’ll find many adventures that will make America’s Sports and Family Fun Capital® a place you’ll want to come back to.”
Sports Force Parks
One of the newest additions to the area is Sports Force Parks at Cedar Point Sports Center, a 57-acre competition facility on the shores of Lake Erie that opened last March, offering teams and their families a tournament experience packed with sports, thrills and outdoor activities.
The $23.5 million sports facility features nine multi-purpose, synthetic turf fields, four NCAA-regulation baseball fields, eight NCAA-regulation soccer and lacrosse fields, a championship baseball/softball stadium, training areas and an ADA-accessible field. Portable fencing makes it easy to adjust the fields to fit the sizes needed for all levels of competition. In addition, there’s an 18-hole miniature golf course, rope-climbing obstacle course, bungee trampoline challenge, two playgrounds (including one that is compatible with the ADA), food and beverage concessions and much more.
“We’re thrilled with the new Cedar Point Sports Center,” says Amanda Smith Rasnick, the group sales director for Lake Erie Shores & Islands. “It provides a competitive, safe and fun tournament experience for teams and athletes of all skill levels, plus its amenities are designed to accommodate the whole family.”
Youth athletes who participate in weekend tourneys and events at Sports Force Parks can receive passes to Cedar Point Amusement Park, and coaches and families of athletes involved in tournaments also can get discounted passes.
Of course, one of the biggest draws for visitors is Lake Erie itself, and it’s also a perfect place to host a sports event or tournament. The lake’s many tributaries provide natural venues for water sports. Each year sees a number of bass and walleye fishing tournaments, drawing competitors from around the country and around the world.
Non-motorized boaters, such as canoe and kayak paddlers, compete in inland or protected water venues, while power boating, sailing regattas and water skiing competitions provide excitement for spectators lining the shore. Triathlon organizers can make the most of both land and lake, finding the area an ideal location for triathlons.
Lake Erie Shores & Islands also is home to Kalahari Resorts & Conventions, which is the Midwest’s largest all-under-one-roof convention resort. The resort itself offers nearly 900 guest rooms, plus it has a total of 210,000 square feet of function space. The facility has hosted gymnastics, cheerleading, billiards and dance competitions, and also is suitable for wrestling, volleyball and many other sports. There are also several restaurants, a full-service spa, Safari Outdoor Adventures Park and one of the largest indoor water parks in the U.S.
Another venue for sports events is the community parks system. For walks, runs and cycling events, courses can snake through picturesque backroads, scenic shorefronts or along the perimeter road of a Lake Erie island. Also, Osborn MetroPark, Fabens Park, Dorn Park and Wightman-Wieber Park have fields to host a variety of sports, including baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, running, cycling and more.
Cedar Point Appeal
Sports Force Parks is just three miles from the Cedar Point Amusement Park, considered “The Roller Coaster Capital of the World®.” Located in Sandusky, Cedar Point is the only amusement park in the world with five roller coasters taller than 200 feet, and its rides attract visitors from across the country. But also, it hosts sports events throughout the year, including the Run & Ride race series, Santa Hustle race series, swimming competitions and sand volleyball tournaments. Cedar Point opened in 1870, and it’s the second-oldest operating amusement park in the U.S.
Cedar Point Shores Water Park opened last year, featuring four new water attractions and many other amenities on 18 acres of shoreline. The new attractions include Point Plummet, a six-story, four-person aqua-drop body slide; Starboard Surge and Portside Plunge, five-story-tall enclosed tube slides with intense drops and turns; and Lakeside Landing, a new family splash-ground featuring 12 kid-size water slides and a zero-depth-entry pool. The new water park is where Soak City once stood, and a number of that attraction’s existing slides and attractions have been renovated and updated.
In addition to Kalahari Resort, Lake Erie Shores & Islands also has other indoor water parks, where families and young athletes can relax year-round when not competing, or if rain causes scheduling changes. Options suit all tastes and budgets, including Cedar Point’s Castaway Bay, Great Wolf Lodge, Maui Sands Resort and Rain Water Park.
Educational and Entertaining
Other family-friendly attractions include the drive-through African Safari Wildlife Park, which also offers educational and entertaining animal shows. The Aquatic Visitor’s Center, which is part of The Ohio State University’s Stone Lab campus summer program, offers the opportunity to experience Lake Erie science up close through hands-on ecosystem displays and live native fish as well as offering information on current research helping to protect Lake Erie. The Aquatic Visitor’s Center is in the small village of Put-in-Bay, located on South Bass Island just a short ferry ride from the mainland.
Seneca Caverns is a geological wonder that is a Registered Natural Landmark, offering a fascinating underground tour through seven levels as low as 110 feet below the surface. At the bottom, visitors can see the crystal-clear stream dubbed Ole Mist’ry River.
Taking a family vacation — whether tied to a sports event or not — doesn’t have to be expensive. In the Lake Erie Shores & Islands region, there also are multiple attractions to enhance the getaway at little or no cost, including many of historical interest.
Because of its location on Lake Erie, Sandusky was a major stop on the Underground Railroad, and visitors can take a self-guided tour of many historic sites visited by former slaves on their path to freedom.
The coastline also offers a number of lighthouses, including the Marblehead Lighthouse, which has an onsite museum and lifesaving station, along with spectacular views for those who climb the 77 steps to the top.
The region also is an important migratory bird resting area. Each spring and fall, thousands of rare migrating birds also enjoy all that Lake Erie Shores & Islands have to offer before continuing on their journeys. A number of parks and nature trails are tailor-made for birding.
Interstate 90 runs along the shore of Lake Erie and is one of the best ways to reach Sandusky, the heart of the Lake Erie Shores & Islands area. Cleveland is a little over an hour to the east, while Toledo and Detroit are one and two hours to the west, respectively. The closest major airport is Cleveland Hopkins International, about an hour away.
Lake Erie Shores & Islands makes it easy for tournament organizers to plan and execute their event. “We offer a grant of up to $5,000 for groups to use for marketing their tournaments and events,” says Rasnick. “Plus, Lake Erie Shores & Islands offers event organizers many other services and assistance, including helping to find lodging packages and discounts to local attractions and restaurants, and offering welcome bags to athletes.”
The CVB also offers on-site assistance, helps to coordinate bids for transportation or lodging, and can put together a customized itinerary and offer an on-site destination concierge.
“With all that we have to offer families, athletes, sports event organizers and visitors,” says Fletcher, “it’s easy to see why Lake Erie Shores & Islands is now America’s Sports & Family Fun Capital®!” SDM