'Sportstown USA'

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Tony Ringham with Owensboro’s Parks and Recreation Department marks one of the four ballfields at Jack C. Fisher Park on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2018, prepping the fields for evening games. The city is replacing the four fields at the park with artificial turf to prevent game cancellations due to rainouts.

In 2004, Sports Illustrated named Owensboro "Kentucky's Sportstown USA."

And the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau plans to highlight that designation in 2020.

"We are determined to live up to the title of Kentucky No. 1 Sportstown," Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said recently. "We earn this title by aggressively pursuing top events across a broad spectrum of sports."

And 2020 should see that effort kick into high gear.

In 2018, the CVB bid $1,000 for a package of 2A high school state tournaments that included the state boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer tournaments.

The basketball tournaments started in January and the others start in 2020.

The 2A tournaments are for schools that are too large for the All 'A' Classic but have fewer than 1,000 students.

Matt Bell, 2A board treasurer and Webster County High athletic director, said the additional tournaments are "a great opportunity for our student athletes to compete on a state championship level. Owensboro has been an asset to make this dream come true."

Jared Bratcher, sports marketing director for the CVB, said each tournament will see 16 teams -- eight boys and eight girls.

In 2020, basketball will be at the Sportscenter on Jan. 16-19.

Softball and baseball will be at Kentucky Wesleyan College on April 18-19.

Soccer and girls' volleyball will be on Sept. 18-20 at KWC.

And Owensboro will host the All A state baseball championship at Chautauqua Park on April 23-26 and the All A state softball tournament at Panther Creek Park that same weekend.

The main thing that will drive baseball and softball tournaments in 2020 and beyond, Bratcher said, is the fact that the city is replacing the four fields at Jack C. Fisher Park with artificial turf to prevent rainouts.

When the ballpark reopens Memorial Day weekend, it will see a major increase in tournaments, he said.

Rainouts have been a problem in recent years with muddy fields causing games to be canceled.

That's not a problem with synthetic turf, which dries quickly, Bratcher said.

National tournaments

"We've signed tournaments for the National Softball Association and the Baseball Players Association -- sister companies -- for the next three years because of the turf," he said. "It's a huge deal."

The Girls' World Series is coming July 14-19 to Fisher Park and the Adult Super World Series will be on Oct. 2-4, Bratcher said.

The Women's World Series is scheduled for Aug. 28-30 at the park, he said.

And NSA is planning a spring world series at the park, starting in 2021, Bratcher said.

"They know they will have four fields with no rainouts," he said. "We lost about a third of our games this year because of rainouts. Teams don't like to drive long distances and spend upwards of $1,000 just to get rained out."

The two world series events in 2020 "will both sell out all rooms in the area," Bratcher said.

Four baseball qualifiers and one state tournament are also planned, he said.

People playing in and attending tournaments stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants and buy gas here among other things, the CVB says.

"Owensboro is the only place that's hosted both softball and baseball world series tournaments in the past," Bratcher said. "But we're still trying to find a date for the baseball world series because the calendar is filling up. With new synthetic fields at Fisher Park, they want to be part of it."

He said, "People want more dates than we have. Because of no rainouts, one of the baseball tournaments is almost filled up with teams before Christmas."

Bratcher said, "We'll have a huge grand reopening of Fisher Park on Memorial Day weekend -- May 22-24."

He said, "When Owensboro built Fisher Park (in 1987), it was the best in the state. But other cities have built nicer parks since then. Now, city leaders have had the vision to become the leader in Kentucky again with turf."

Bratcher said, "Elizabethtown is adding turf too. But this will put us back in front for a while. Other cities will see what's happening here and decide to play follow the leader. At some point, we'll have to look at how to get more synthetic fields. Teams will be demanding to play on synthetic fields."

Amanda Rogers, Owensboro's parks and recreation director, said recently that Fisher Park has 22 to 26 weekends of tournaments a year, averages at least 30 teams per weekend and brings in an estimated $11 million in economic impact annually.

That should increase next year, Bratcher said.

Other sports

Last week, the CVB announced that the Kentucky Scholastic 3D Archery State Indoor Championship will be at the Owensboro Convention Center from Feb. 27 to March 1.

More than 500 archers are expected to compete for a state championship in their division and class.

Chris McDonald, coordinator for the tournament, said it's moving from Madisonville because it needs a larger venue.

"Owensboro has the perfect venue and so much to offer our families that travel for competitions," he said in a news release.

Laura Alexander, the convention center's general manager, said the tournament's economic impact on the city should approach $400,000.

Bratcher said the city is trying to get a national archery tournament as well.

He said pickleball "could be our next big sport."

Bratcher said, "Owensboro has become a leader in pickleball. This area is exploding with pickleball. There's a tournament almost every week."

The second annual Pickleball Invitational is scheduled for Centre Court, the city's tennis facility, at 2965 Bittel Road on Feb. 7-9.

"We had hundreds of players last year," Bratcher said.

The Pickleball Open will be May 8-10, also at Centre Court, with a $25,000 payout, he said.

The Mid-South Conference tennis championships are coming to Centre Court on April 26-29 with men's and women's championships, Bratcher said.

"It was supposed to be in Bowling Green last spring," he said. "But they moved it here because of the weather. They needed indoor courts. They liked Centre Court and decided to come back this year. It's a significant event."

Bratcher said Owensboro still needs an indoor sports facility, other than the Sportscenter.

But the community is doing a good job of living up to its "Kentucky's Sportstown USA" title, he said.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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