Feature Article - July 2010
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Try That on for Size

Small Communities Take On Big Recreation Amenities

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Invite Outside Guests

Perhaps the ultimate means of getting some extra use out of your facilities is to design them to be tournament-friendly. This means clustering several soccer fields or softball diamonds together, providing plenty of onsite amenities for player and family entertainment, and giving your stands the gold-star treatment. And, be sure you get the whole city on board—hotels, restaurants, the Chamber of Commerce—if you decide to go this route, because when a tournament comes to town, it's all hands on deck, and everyone benefits.

A prime example of this sort of prowess? Sioux Falls, S.D.

Although it's the largest city in the state, Sioux Falls' population of 157,000 puts it nowhere near the top tier of U.S. population centers. Yet, this community has hosted three national softball tournaments in the past five years, beating out larger cities for the honor.

"It really is an economic vitality thing for the community, said Director of Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Don Kearney. "With hundreds of teams invading our town for a week, it gives us a boost in revenue."

The parks department teams up with the local convention and visitors' bureau, as well as tournament organizers, to promote the events and ensure a fantastic experience for all involved.

The added revenue for the city has enabled them to construct a new softball complex, and it's a good thing, too. There were 135 teams in the 2007 tournament, but more than 200 competed in 2009.

"Whenever we build we want to do all we can to accommodate as many different types of tournaments as we can," said Kearney, who noted that Sioux Falls hosts soccer tournaments as well. This means scrupulous attention to the details of field dimensions, lighting requirements, seating capacity and parking.

"We also make sure we have proper drainage," Kearney said. "If we get two inches of rain, we don't want to be shut down for two days."

And beyond careful design, at tournament time Sioux Falls has staff on-call 24 hours a day to tend to any emergencies.

"We want to make sure all involved have a great experience—players, fans and coaches," he said.

But, just having a fantastic facility isn't enough.

"You also have to be able to back that up with high-quality tournament management," Kearney explained. "By that I mean making sure volunteer organizations are ready to roll, your housing programs can accommodate the number of rooms needed to house players, you have staff on the ground to make sure everything is perfect. We've set the bar high so people want to come back. You can have a great facility, but if it's not well run, with good field conditions, people will find [that] it doesn't measure up to what they were expecting."

The folks in Forney have played host to several state softball tournaments, as well as Quick Foot soccer tournaments, which involve three-, four- or six-person teams playing on modified fields (team and field sizes vary by age group). Last year, 4,500 participants (and their feet) descended on Forney for the occasion, and Curry was pleased with both the boost to the local economy and the way Forney Community Park handled the extra traffic.

"The layout of the park lets us do quite a bit [at once]," he said. "We try to get the softball association and soccer association to talk to each other and not do events the same weekend, and so far we've been successful."

And, although tournaments are a wonderful boost, Curry keeps in mind the community the park belongs to.

"We can have one tournament or the other and be fine," he said. "The family recreation area stays open. All three venues [soccer fields, softball fields and family recreation area] have their own parking."

In Sioux Falls, Kearney also makes sure the tournaments benefit the hometown crowd.

"It's nice for local kids who participate along with others from throughout the country," he said. "And there have been more than 100 scouts at our tournaments. At one time or another every major college has been here. That's a great recruiting opportunity, and it's great for players to be seen.

"Sometimes the hard part is finding the money to make the initial investment," Kearney said of a tournament-worthy complex. "But if you build it, they will come."