Augusta Gaelic Sports hosted their annual “Azalea Cup”

Augusta Gaelic Sports hosted their annual “Azalea Cup” hurling competition at Sweetwater Park in Thomson-McDuffie County on November 9, 2019. The event was secured by Sports Strategies through a collaboration with Visit Thomson and Thomson-McDuffie Recreation. The tournament attracted teams from Augusta and Atlanta, GA; Charlotte, NC; and Charleston and Greenville, SC.

Hurling is a team sport of Gaelic-Irish origin, and it is considered the “fastest game on grass.” It combines elements of lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, and hockey for fast-paced, physical action. I was introduced to the sport through my neighbor who introduced me to the Augusta Gaelic Sports Club. After learning they hosted an annual tournament, we began discussions about bring the competition to Thomson.

Sweetwater Park proved to be an excellent venue for the tournament. Having two pitches set up side-by-side allowed teams and spectators to place their tents between the two fields and never have to move. It was great for spectating and allowed for a genuine ease of managing the day.

Following the tournament, the teams enjoyed a post-event celebration at the Highrail in Downtown Thomson. It was a magnificent location to finish an excellent day. People ate, beer flowed, and bagpipes were played to the merriment of everyone. Seriously. Plans are in the works to make 2020 an even bigger deal.

With Derek Bombeck and Derek Bonds at Memorial Stadium

I left the conference in North Platte and headed to Lincoln, where I had the privilege to spend a few days and take in a game.

During the visit I was able to meet again with Derek Bombeck of the Lincoln CVB, as well as Jeff Maul, the CVB executive director. Following our meeting, Derek arranged for a tour of Memorial Stadium at the University of Nebraska. As a lifelong Cornhusker fan, it was a dream come true. I’d never been to a Nebraska game, so to be able to stand in the middle of the field at Memorial Stadium was a real kick in the feels. The tour ended with us standing at the top of the stadium watching the test run of flyover for the next day’s game. It was a remarkable way to end an amazing experience. I will be forever indebted to Derek Bombek and Derek Bonds of the University of Nebraska’s athletic department for fulfilling a big point on the bucket list.

For gameday, my cousin, Jeff, drove up from Kansas to take me to the game against Indiana. Through the generosity of the Lincoln CVB, I was invited to the Governors Tailgate at the Governor’s mansion prior to the game. Through the generosity of an attendee at my breakout session in North Platte, we were also invited to the Nebraska Champion’s Club tailgate. It would have been nice to beat Indiana, but after a week of stellar mid-western hospitality, there was no room for complaints.

John Ricks, Nebraska Tourism Director

The week after returning from IEDC in Indianapolis, I headed to the Cornhusker State for the 2019 Nebraska Tourism Conference hosted by Visit Nebraska. This was a big deal to me as I spent a great deal of my youth visiting relatives in Lincoln. My father went to the University of Nebraska, and I have been a lifelong Cornhusker fan.

My trip itinerary had me flying into Lincoln then joining my Nebraska tourism hosts for the drive west to North Platte. If you’ve never been to the state, I can you tell you it’s very flat. That’s fine unless you’re getting hit with 70mph crosswinds on the interstate. Then it’s terrifying. Fortunately, we made it safely to our destination, but the winds decided to stick around for the duration of the conference. It made for a blustery and chilly visit.

On the opening day of the conference, I had the honor of leading a round-table discussion for Sports Nebraska, the statewide collective of sports commissions and CVB sports sales managers. Co-moderators included Jim Steele, former South Sioux City Chamber President, as well as Derek Bombeck, Sales Development Manager of the Lincoln CVB and president of Sports Nebraska. In addition to discussing the state of Nebraska sports tourism, the round-table discussion also served as a learning platform for communities beginning to delve into the sports realm.

Sports Strategies Presentation at 2019 Nebraska Tourism Conference

On Day 2, I led a breakout session, “Sports Tourism as Economic Development.” During this presentation, I was able to expound upon many of the concepts that we had discussed during the previous day’s Nebraska Sports meeting. Lincoln and Omaha are widely recognized as major destinations for national events, but it was apparent that smaller communities also recognize the benefits of recruiting events and tournaments.

The smaller Nebraska communities are capitalizing on natural assets over sports complexes while keeping up with national trends, as evidenced by the number of gravel cycling events popping up on the miles of dirt roads that cover the state. The trip to North Platte was excellent. I’d be remiss not to mention the incredible hospitality of the Visit Nebraska team, especially conference organizer Callie Austad.

Gov. Polis

I was able to attend the Colorado Bicycle Summit this last week which was hosted by Bicycle Colorado, a non-profit group focused on bicycle advocacy in the state. It was a great time to mingle with the advocacy side of the sport of cycling, reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in a while and meeting new people from the non-profit cycling sector in Colorado.

We had the new Governor, Jared Polis, as an opening speaker and he had a great talk on how important bicycle infrastructure was to the state.  It is amazing how much cycling industry exists in Colorado and all were there in full force.

The keynote speaker was Rebecca Rusch—Red Bull world championship athlete and star of the Emmy-winning film Blood Road who spoke at length about her time in endurance sport.

Also present were several destination marketing organizations from cities around the state and even a few from out of state. There were some great discussions about bicycle infrastructure led by People For Bikes and city advocates around Colorado. I did notice, however, the absence of event representatives at this conference. With events being such an economic driver and a way to shine a spotlight on cycling assets, it surprised me to see little interest by those groups. What better way to show off cycling infrastructure than with an event with featured athletes to rally around it? Maybe next year…