In June, more than 300 teams from around the country competed in youth baseball and softball tournaments at Champions Park in Newberry, FL, a baseball/softball complex which features 16 fields on 40 acres, with plenty of room for social distancing.
Parents were seated beyond the outfield fences, many watching from beneath 10’ x 10’ tents. Dugouts were sprayed with disinfectant, and precautions were taken against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, which had shut all sports down from March to May.
So, when you ask Richard Blalock — the CEO and founder of RADD Sports, which is managing the nearly complete Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County — if youth sports tourism (see story on next page) is ready to bounce back in Wesley Chapel, he is predictably bullish.
“The youth sports travel industry is the most resilient tourism industry out there,” says Blalock, a 40-year veteran of the business and the former parks director for the City of Newberry. RADD Sports also manages Champions Park.
“In 2008 (when the last recession hit), Mickey Mouse was down 38 percent,” he says, “but youth sports was only down three percent. When it comes to parents’ discretionary spending, they most often choose sports.”
Based on the first few months for the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County, parents and athletes definitely are eager to get back at it.
The first event Blalock has scheduled for the new, 98,000 sq.-ft. indoor facility is only six weeks away — on Sunday, August 23 — a Blue Star Basketball event that will feature some of the best girls basketball players in the country.
The following week will be the NIKE Volleyball championships, which will have more than 60 teams in different age groups, and the week after, a 40-team high school volleyball tournament is scheduled.
The campus also is pretty much booked for September, and also already has multiple events planned in October and November as well.
Blalock says his staff is working closely with Pasco County officials on local programming protocols for the weekdays, and hopes to launch a wide variety of recreational and competitive local basketball, volleyball, cheerleading and soccer programs in September.
While recent spikes in positive cases of Covid-19 — including amongst the younger demographics — were again rattling many in Florida as June drew to a close, Blalock is confident youth and adult sports can return safely.
“We’re all just trying to do what we have to do to keep everyone safe, so we can keep allowing the kids to play,” he says, adding that the campus likely will have to limit spectators — where, for example, mom can only come watch her kid play in the morning, while dad gets the afternoon shift.
Covid-19 presents a complex set of unique challenges, and Blalock says the sports tourism industry is undergoing a massive shift to meet those challenges head on. “We have to bob and weave a little bit to figure this out,” he says.
Whatever that transformation will be, it will not only require providing a safe environment, but it will have to assuage parental fears about the dangers of Covid-19 transmission. He says the entire industry is communicating about best practices and sharing ideas, and those have been passed on to his staff during their training for the opening of the new facility.
Regardless, the interest clearly hasn’t waned for cabin-fever-stricken athletes and their families. “We’re booking the thing up pretty quick,” Blalock says.
For registration and other information about the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County (3021 Sports Coast Way), visit Wiregrass-Sports.com or see the ad on pg. 3 of this issue. For sponsorship information, email Jannah@RADDSports.com.