By June 12, 2017 Read More →

Youth athletic competitions bring tourism money to WV communities


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It was a typically hot, typically cloudless, typically dehydrating June day.

Acre after acre of minivans, pickups, SUVs, sedans and other typical vehicles were parked on grassy fields. Hundreds of boys and girls and young men and young women, from travel teams to recreation league teams, from Wheeling to Bridgeport to Summersville and more — with their white, black, blue, red, green, orange and pink jerseys — their coaches, parents, grandparents and siblings, all converged on 16 soccer fields at Barboursville Village Park to see who was the state’s best.

It was a big youth sports party that’s pretty much the norm for Barboursville — population 4,262 on the western edge of eastern Cabell County — every year.

“We don’t have anything like this up in our area,” said Lori Thomas of Bridgeport, as her son, Taylor, 12, warmed up for his first game of the day.

“It’s nice to come to a place like this. If we win the lottery, we’re going to build a soccer complex.”

Barboursville and Beckley own the market on the big youth soccer tournaments in the Mountain State, but other sports are growing, too — lacrosse, anyone? — and other cities such as Charleston and Wheeling, are making moves to join the fun.

Why? One tournament can bring $10 million or more into a community.

“Youth sports is such a big market because it’s recession-proof,” says Tim Brady, vice president of sales and marketing for the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. The number of meetings and conferences the city lands can vary with the economy, but “people will mortgage their home to travel for youth sports,” he says.

The soccer place

For the time being, Barboursville is the best place in the state — if not the only place — to host the big multi-state youth soccer tournaments. Village officials and businesspeople are fine with that.“You’ve got hundreds of kids, which equates to thousands of families in town,” says Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum.CVBs like youth sports because they bring in so many people. Parents, grandparents and siblings are more likely to accompany younger players than older ones, and more family members tend to travel to watch girls play.

“One of the good things about youth sports is they’re also apt to be out in the community spending money,” says Tyson Compton, executive director of the Greater Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The big youth sports event in the Huntington-Barboursville area in recent years has been the U.S. Soccer Association Region I championships. Barboursville hosted them in 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016, with more than 100 teams coming from 13 states — Virginia up the East Coast to Maine.

Following the 2010 event, the Greater Huntington CVB did a survey to see how much money came with the tournament.

“That was just a little over $15 million,” Compton said.

Hotels and restaurants did well, as Compton expected. But there were some surprises.

“Best Buy at the (Huntington) Mall did really well that week because people bought electronics that they were using,” he said.

The event also brought business to hotels along Interstate 64 from Charleston, about 35 miles east of Barboursville, to Morehead, Kentucky, about 60 miles to the west.

Next up for Barboursville is the USSA Region I Presidents Cup tournament June 17-19. Dave Larabe, executive director of the West Virginia Soccer Association, said that tournament will bring about 100 teams to the area. It’s similar to the Region I championships, and the tournament winners will move on to the national Presidents Cup event in Florida, but the teams at the Presidents Cup will not be the elite teams that play for the Region I title.

West Virginia will have two or three teams in the Presidents Cup. All others will be from out of state, he said.

Beckley, too

Barboursville may have the most soccer fields to offer to large tournaments, but the Southern West Virginia YMCA at Beckley says it has a pretty good complex,too. The YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex has eight fields. Two have stadium seating. One stadium field has an artificial playing surface, and the other may be getting one soon, says Jay Rift, the Y’s executive director.In the late 1990s, a group of people at the Y looked at how they could improve the Y’s youth soccer program, Rift said. Beaver Creek Coal Co. donated a reclamation site, and a fundraising campaign began. The $5 million complex opened in 2003, Rift said.It has hosted the West Virginia Soccer Association State Cup championships, the state high school championships and the Y’s own youth soccer program, he said. Three high schools and four middle schools play their home games there, and this fall WVU Tech will use it, Rift said.

Along with soccer, the complex hosts fairs and concerts. The record attendance for a concert is about 20,000 people, Rift said.

While the Beckley complex cannot hold events the size of those at Barboursville, it does host some that are almost as big, such as the annual Little General Soccer Classic, Rift said. That event brings in 50 to 80 teams from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, along with some from West Virginia, he said.

“It’s a nice injection of money from lodging, food and shopping,” he said.

Beyond soccer

Meanwhile, the Wheeling area is getting ready for the annual Beast of the East baseball tournament over the Independence Day weekend. The tournament brings in dozens of teams from as far away as Michigan. Unlike soccer tournaments, the fields for the Beast of the East are spread over a wide area, from the New Martinsville area up to Washington, Pennsylvania.Wheeling itself should see a $2 million benefit from the tournament, said Frank O’Brien, executive director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau.O’Brien couldn’t say whether the Beast of the East or the Super Six high school football championships are a bigger infusion of tourism money. The Super Six is concentrated in one location for a shorter time, but it does bring 25,000 to 50,000 people to Wheeling for that weekend, he said.

The Huntington area doesn’t get youth sports events as big as the soccer tournaments in Barboursville, but it does get other sports. The annual Spikefest volleyball tournament at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in downtown Huntington draws close to 100 teams from four states, providing a $500,000 boost to the area, Compton said.

There is also the state high school wrestling tournament in Huntington every year.

“If you can get enough of these moderate (events), that’s going to have a nice impact on the community,” O’Brien said.

He said the Wheeling CVB is looking at creating a sports commission that would both inventory available sites for events but, also go to sports trade shows to do the networking necessary to get the attention of sports associations.

Wheeling-area residents will travel long distances to play and attend youth sports, and it would be nice for the area to be able to host more, O’Brien said.

Adult sports are becoming more popular in the Northern Panhandle as well, O’Brien said. Wheeling recently hosted the state championships for flag football, and intramural teams from area colleges and universities are beginning to travel to play one another, he said.

Charleston area

The big youth sports events in the Charleston area are the state high school basketball championship tournaments.“The economic impact to the city those two weekends is upward of $10 million,” Brady said.Charleston also is home to the state high school cheerleading, baseball and track and field championships, Brady said.

But Kanawha County wants to expand its offerings in the sports field separate from high school athletics. The Kanawha County Commission voted last month to proceed with a $15.2 million youth sports complex in the Dunbar area, pending results of testing for soil contamination from nearby chemical plants.

As envisioned in the master site plan prepared by ZMM Architects & Engineers, the Shawnee Park Multi-Sport Complex would have fields for a variety of sports. There would be eight collegiate-sized soccer fields with artificial turf surfaces. One field would have bleachers and lights. There also would be four fields that could be used for either baseball or softball. Those also would have artificial surfaces, along with a concession stand, press boxes, restrooms and bleachers with canopies.

Closer to the Kanawha River would be two grass fields for football and nine fields of varying sizes that could be used for soccer or lacrosse, all of which would have grass surfaces.

“People tend to think in terms of baseball and soccer, but there are all kinds of sports out there people will travel for,” Brady said. Those include lacrosse, rugby and track and field, he said.

Tatum said Barboursville does not fear the development of Shawnee and how that might affect its own ability to draw large tournaments.

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” he said. “I don’t look at it as competition at all. If they have a tournament, that’s going to send people to Barboursville. I don’t see it as a negative at all.”

Landing events

When sports associations look for tournaments sites, communities must offer good financial packages, Compton said. Associations want to know what incentives a community can provide or how communities can save them money, he said.“As is the case with so many things, so many times the bottom line is the financial facts. Can we meet their needs, and can we be beneficial to them?” Compton said.Larabe said the big soccer tournaments, such as Region I and Presidents Cup, are awarded after communities and state associations submit lengthy, detailed bid packages.

“We’re pretty familiar with that type of thing from doing the regional championship tournament,” he said.

As with the recent state tournament, Barboursville is the only place in the Mountain State with enough fields to handle an event that large, Larabe said.

Tatum says providing good customer service keeps bringing the tournaments back. Barboursville makes sure trash barrels are emptied and restrooms are kept clean, he said.

“If there are things our public works department can help out with while they’re here, we do that,” he said. “The one thing we try to learn every time is how to make the experience better for the people visiting.”

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