County sees economic potential in youth sports events

cconley@islandpacket.comAugust 17, 2012 

Sylvester Hamilton, an employee with Public Works Ground Maintenance, mows the grass on the baseball field at Burton Wells Park in Beaufort on Friday afternoon.

DELAYNA EARLEY THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

Beaufort County hopes hosting youth sporting events will help the area score economically.

Last month, the county hosted two Dixie Boys state championships, which attracted a combined 24 teams and hundreds of spectators for nearly a week, boosting spending at local tourism businesses.

Now, the county has bid to host the 2014 Dixie Boys World Series.

Bluffton's Oscar J. Frazier Park played host to the 2008 Dixie Junior Boys World Series for 13-year-olds, and the 2011 Dixie Boys World Series for 13- and 14-year-olds was conducted at Burton Wells Park in northern Beaufort County.

Some officials want to expand those efforts beyond baseball -- deputy county administrator Bryan Hill suggests adding softball events to the mix.

"In my view, the key is to get softball tournaments here. We are so heavily in baseball, and our fields can handle softball as well," he said this week.

'A BIG WIN'

The economic impact of local sports tournaments ranges from $77 a person a day to nearly $200, according to The Sport Journal, a publication of the U.S. Sports Academy.

Regardless of the exact figure, holding youth sports tournaments is "a big win" for the host community, said Robb Wells, tourism division director for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"No matter where you are, whether you are large or small, if you are able to land a ... tournament, you're going to get a shot in the arm economically," he said.

Sandy Jones is commissioner and CEO of Dixie Boys Baseball, a youth league with 30,000 ballplayers in 11 states from Texas to Virginia. He says sports travel augments -- or even replaces -- summer trips for some families.

"Most people view this, especially in the Bluffton area, as their vacation," he said of such events. "It will be their final summer vacation before the children go back to school."

The exact number of people who attended the state tournaments in July weren't immediately available, but Hill says nearly 4,500 tickets were sold over the six-day event from July 21-26.

FULL ROOMS

Wendi Boyd, sales manager for the Hampton Inn in Beaufort, said teams from Sumter stayed at the her hotel.

And, because the team won, players and family stayed for the entire week.

"We got 100 room nights, which is pretty impressive," she said. "Most folks arrived on the 20th and ... a good percentage of them didn't check out until the 27th."

Other Beaufort hotels, including America's Best Inn & Suites and Comfort Suites, also hosted teams. Hotels in greater Bluffton were also busier that week.

Gisselle Brown, front desk manager for Comfort Suites, said two teams rented a 27 rooms during the tournament, earning the hotel about $9,000 for the week.

'SPURRING DEVELOPMENT'

Beaufort County will find out in October if it will get the 2014 series. The event is also being courted by communities in Louisiana and Texas, among others.

Win or lose, Hill said the county is already working with sports leagues from Beaufort to Hilton Head Island to bring more events to the area.

"This is one of our ways of spurring economic development," he said.

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