The Neighborhood News wasn’t the only news medium on hand in June of 2018 when Wiregrass Ranch developer JD Porter, four of the five Pasco County commissioners, Pasco County/“Florida’s Sports Coast” tourism director Adam Thomas, RADDSports president and founder Richard Blalock and several other local dignitaries threw some dirt in the air at the groundbreaking for a new indoor sports facility to be located just north of S.R. 56 and a mile or so from both the Shops at Wiregrass and AdventHealth Wesley Chapel.
Also in attendance that day were representatives of Mainsail Development, which was getting ready to build a Marriott-branded Residence Inn with Wesley Chapel’s first and only rooftop bar adjacent to the planned sports campus.
Fast forward to Aug. 15 of this year, when the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County held its first-ever Open House to show off the brand-spankin’-new, 98,000-sq.-ft., state-of-the-art indoor sports facility to local families. This time around, photographer/videographer Charmaine George and I were the only media folks on hand to let you know about it. And, let me just say…WOW!
The fulfillment of the dream Blalock (pointing in top right photo) has had for more than four years is everything anyone could possibly have hoped for — and really, so much more. Although I obviously am raving about it, since my wife Jannah is the director of marketing for the facility, I could be accused of being unfairly biased about it.
On the other hand, my favorite thing about the open house was walking around the facility, seeing the smiles (and often, gritty determination) on the young athletes’ faces, and hearing the buzz from all of the parents, all of whom were saying, “This is exactly what we need here.” They all let me know that I wasn’t alone in feeling the excitement that day.
“I’m speechless about the facility,” said parent and Wesley Chapel resident Yanet Hernandez. “It’s amazing. Very clean and there’s a vibe that you get when you walk into the gym.”
Hernandez also pointed out something heartwarming, something that Blalock says also is part of his vision for training young athletes to be not only the best athletes they can be, but also the best people (and teammates) they can be. “Seeing the (volleyball) girls of all races and backgrounds playing together, being so polite to each other — it’s just such a great atmosphere!”
Open House Nuts & Bolts
Blalock (top right photo) and his RADDSports team have been chomping at the bit to get open (despite all of the obvious Covid concerns; more on that below), and he said the main purpose of the Open House was to help the local community get acquainted with this unique facility and everything it has to offer.
Even though the Sports Campus will be bringing in tournaments in one of its four core sports — basketball, volleyball, cheerleading and soccer (both indoor and outdoor) — virtually every weekend, Blalock is equally excited about the programs that will be available just about every weekday throughout the year for local residents of all ages.
He says all levels of athletes, from as young as three years old to adults, will be able to enjoy the Sports Campus during the week, and young athletes have three different levels (Developmental, Competitive & Elite) of instruction and competition in all four core sports — with evaluations and programs for each beginning this month.
Meet The RADD-Star Team!
The Open House also was an opportunity for most attendees to meet the amazing team of directors who will help pick the teams and the coaches who will be running the programs and training the kids. Cheer directors Matt McDonough and Lyric Hill, volleyball director Eric Praetorius, basketball director Ronnie Outen and soccer director Stuart Campbell were all on hand at the event, running the day’s program and meeting all of the interested young athletes.
Hill and McDonough were helped with coaching and demonstrations of cheer stunts by the high school cheer squads from both Wiregrass Ranch and Cypress Creek high schools. Cheer participants even got to try their hands (and feet) on the 40-foot-long spring floor that looks very much like what Olympic gymnasts also use for training.
Praetorius brought in some of the truly outstanding high school volleyball players who have participated in other programs he has directed. The two volleyball courts set aside for the Open House were filled the entire four hours, with the elite players setting each other up to spike home winners and risking floor burns while diving on the shiny, new gym floor for digs, while everyone who was interested in the sport (no matter what level of player they were) received quick instructional tidbits from Praetorius and other coaches on hand — and lots of play time.
Outen somehow recruited an early morning adult full-court basketball game for the event, with separate full courts set aside for younger players. You could hear several parents and coaches cheering on the young hopefuls — including several talented girls, one of whom repeatedly did a great job of taking older, bigger boys to the hoop — from the sidelines.
And, although I left before he got there, Outen’s son Tyriq, a 6’-4” ice hockey goalie who recently was named the MVP of a major invitational tournament in Canada with his all-minority hockey team that was the surprise winner of the tournament, showed up to take pictures with his dad. We’ll tell you Tyriq’s story next issue.
And, you could just see soccer director Stuart Campbell, a former professional “footballer” in England (he’s actually of Scottish descent) and a former player and head coach for the Tampa Bay Rowdies — who probably is the RADDSports director who has most anticipated the day he can start actually coaching, rather than sitting in all-day meetings — absolutely beaming as he checked out the local soccer talent.
“This is quite an event,” Campbell said. “The kids are just loving the place!”
RADDSports director of programs Nicole Baker (another former cheerleader herself) also was on hand, doing temperature checks of everyone who entered the building, and helping Jannah and several volunteers make sure every participant signed an online or on-paper waiver before they entered the gym. There was plenty of hand sanitizer available and even though there were at least 300-400 people who stopped by at some point during the event, the spacious interior of the Sports Campus had plenty of space for social distancing.
One of my favorite things was the mezzanine, which has viewing available of the action in both Arenas A & B of the Sports Campus — each of which was designed for four basketball or eight volleyball courts. There’s also seating in the mezzanine overlooking the amazing cheer area.
The Wesley Chapel Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn, two of the Sports Campus’ hotel partners, and Culver’s and Bubba’s 33 restaurants — which are located on S.R. 56 and stand to receive a lot of out-of-town business from the facility on the weekends — had tables inside the lobby to show their support for the RADDSports team (which has held most of its meetings at the Hilton during the construction).
“We had a few potential sponsors come through to check us out, too,” Blalock said. “I can’t even tell you how happy we are to be (almost) open.”
Pasco County Tourism, aka the Florida Sports Coast, was scheduled to hold the actual ribbon cutting for the Sports Campus on Aug. 27, which was after we went to press with this issue. RADDSports is the county’s private partner which is managing the building that was funded by a recent voter-approved 2-cent increase in the county’s tourism (or “bed”) tax.
“Play Ball,” indeed!
For sponsorship opportunities at the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County (3021 Sports Coast Way), email Jannah@RADDSports.com. For program information, email Nicole@RADDSports.com. For sponsorship opportunities at the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County (3021 Sports Coast Way), email Jannah@RADDSports.com. For program information, email Nicole@RADDSports.com. Also, you can call (833) TEAM-RADD (832-6723).