Some communities claim historic sites or giant malls. Others define themselves by their landscape or region. Spartanburg County, South Carolina, has all that: the history, the shopping, the beautiful landscape and the warm Southern culture, but if you ask, they will tell you the thing they value the most is this: parks.
"Spartanburg is a sports-crazed area," says John Luton, athletic director, Spartanburg Parks. "We love our sports here, and it's a very big priority for us."
That priority is demonstrated in the county council's commitment to building and maintaining a variety of first-class parks and sports facilities, including Tyger River Park, the most recent addition to a stable of impressive facilities that are putting Spartanburg at the center of competitive softball and baseball.
Tyger River Park
This October, Spartanburg's first major regional park opens in the town of Reidville. Tyger River Park is a fully-landscaped 140-acre baseball/softball facility that takes the concept of 'park' to a whole new level.
The park features twelve youth baseball/softball fields, arranged in four-field clusters, along with a championship stadium with seating for up to 600 people. Equipped with portable mounds and fences, the fields can accommodate baseball for ages 4-15 and fastpitch softball at any level. Each field is skinned to maximize versatility, and all fields offer lighting and electronic scoreboards. The championship stadium includes a number of special features that give the field a major-league look and feel, including enhanced lighting and a larger scoreboard.
Tyger River Park offers an exceptional experience on the field, but the planners of this park had something even more unique in mind. In the center of the clusters of fields is a five-acre nature-themed play area.
"The idea behind the play area is that we're trying to engage children in imaginative play," says Luton. "This is not just your basic slides-and-swings kind of playground. There are tunnels and sandboxes, interactive sundials and educational activities, grassy hills and moguls. The play area is really a draw in itself. We're trying to give tournament-goers something beyond just ball fields and slabs of concrete."
Of course, there are slides in this extraordinary playground. They're located in the 60-foot observation tower, a visual feature of the park. The lighthouse-like tower is the first thing visitors see upon entering the park and, from the top, offers a stunning view of the surrounding fields. Winding around the play area and throughout the park, handicap accessible walking trails offer a picturesque recreational opportunity for Spartanburg residents and visitors.
The park also includes a central clubhouse. The two-story building includes a concession area, park offices, meeting rooms, umpire changing rooms and lounge, and another special feature: a VIP suite.
"The VIP suite is important because it provides something unique for tournament directors, scouts, etc.," says Luton. "It's an air-conditioned place they can escape from the heat. We'll have flat screen TVs so that they can always keep an eye on the games, and of course we'll provide refreshments as needed."
Tyger River Park clearly includes a full range of top-of-the-line amenities, so it's not surprising that the park also covers all of the basics and does it well. Ample parking and restroom facilities, as well as wireless Internet access throughout the park, mean that event planners can depend on having every logistical base covered.
Tyger River also knocks the convenience factor out of the park: only 10 minutes from Greenville Spartanburg International Airport and located just 2.5 miles from Interstate 85, Tyger River Park is easy to find and conveniently situated near a selection of hotels, restaurants and shopping opportunities to meet any budget and taste.
The park will celebrate its opening October 1 with a United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Super NIT tournament.
"If everything is done before then, we could potentially have a tournament in mid- September as well, but our main priority is getting everything in the park done just right," says Luton.
Tyger River Park is also already booked for most of October and several dates in November, including an Amateur Softball Association (ASA) college exposure fastpitch tournament. The Spartanburg Parks team is also in negotiations with a major youth world series, which would take place in the summer of 2012, and hopes to have an announcement about the event in the coming few weeks.
With the opening of this spectacular park, Spartanburg will leverage its experience hosting an already impressive roster of high-prolife softball tournaments.
"We're very involved with the local ASA group," says Luton. "We've hosted an ASA fastpitch state tournament for the last five straight years. It's a very large tournament, 60-80 teams, and has been a big success. We also have great relationships with the National Softball Association (NSA) and USSSA, and we're looking forward to doing more with them. We feel like we've really laid the groundwork for the larger events, and we're excited to get them here."
The Ideal Sports Site
Spartanburg makes sports and parks a central priority, which means that Spartanburg sports events find a community that's not just supportive of their events, but passionate about them.
Tyger River Park is the most recent addition to the county's park system. That system also includes North Spartanburg Park, which just received a $1.3 million renovation, and the 295 Complex. In all, Spartanburg offers 21 baseball/softball fields in a 15-mile radius, making the county an ideal spot for tournaments of any size.
But baseball and softball certainly aren't Spartanburg's only sports.
"Youth soccer and volleyball are very popular, as is golf (the area has five public courses)," says Chris Jennings, executive director, Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Our YMCA swim club also brings in many regional and state meets."
Spartanburg County boasts several state championship high school athletic teams, and is home to eight colleges, offering a number of sports facilities suitable for even the largest state, regional and national events, such as the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, held at Wofford College's Gibbs Stadium. Celebrating 75 years in 2011, the Shrine Bowl benefits the Greenville (SC) Unit Shriners Hospital for Children and 21 other Shriners Hospitals across the nation and is America's oldest high school football all-star game.
Spartanburg is also home to the NFL's Carolina Panthers Summer Training Camp and the back-to-back Southern Conference champion men's basketball team at Wofford College. Cycling also has a major place in this sports community. Spartanburg earned the distinction of being South Carolina's first bicycle-friendly community in 2007, and produces the annual Assault on Mt. Mitchell century ride.
Spartanburg has more on its side than just a sportscentric culture and exceptional facilities. Located at the crossroads of Interstates 85 and 26, Spartanburg is a convenient escape for sports enthusiasts. The county is also within easy reach of a number of major populations centers: one hour from Columbia, S.C.; one hour from Charlotte and Asheville, N.C.; and two hours from Atlanta.
Visitors looking for some natural diversions will find both the Blue Ridge Mountains and the ocean within an easy drive of Spartanburg, and the county seat and largest city in the county, also called Spartanburg, offers something for those seeking a more cosmopolitan escape.
"Mix in a lively arts scene and unique attractions like the BMW Driving Experience, historic sites and museums," says Jennings, "and you have something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
With a central place in pivotal moments in American history, Spartanburg is a community that honors its deep historical roots while also marching enthusiastically into the future. Visitors can spend a few hours exploring Revolutionary War battlefields and the Hub City Train Museum, then move on to touring one of the area's cutting-edge agri-tourism farms or shopping in one of hundreds of upscale retail or fantastic antique shops. Post-game evenings are easy in Spartanburg, with options ranging from experimental theatre to a vibrant music scene. And with more than 3,000 hotel rooms in a range of budget options, finding the perfect place for your team to stay is always easy.
The place to play is Spartanburg. Find out more at Spartanburg Parks: http://spartanburgparks.org.