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Be open to benefits of sports tourism in Pasco

Published April 19, 2007


The county's tourism panel wants visitors from as far away as Canada to come to Wesley Chapel to play a sport created by American Indians. It's not as far-fetched as you might think, and the tournament could be the first joint venture between a proposed Pasco Sports Commission and the Florida Sports Foundation, which helps facilitate sports events around the state.

The sport is lacrosse, characterized by a 2005 Sports Illustrated article as the fastest-growing game in the United States. The Web site estimates the number of youth-league players in the United States younger than 16 at 186,000, more than twice what it was in 2001.

Wednesday, the county's Tourist Development Council Board agreed to partner with the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association to bid for a national tournament for high school-age players to take place at the county's newest park off Boyette Road. The park is scheduled to open in May. The Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions will be the first weekend of the 2008. The Wesley Chapel group has right of first refusal for the tournament, which will go to the West Palm Beach area if Pasco does not act.

It is a high-caliber event, bringing in top teams from North America as well as college scouts and recruiters. The defending champion from Canada already has committed to play.

There are plenty of details to work out, like how to split the licensing fee from the county and the Wesley Chapel group. The state foundation could pony up a grant to offset the county's share, which could be $15,000 for the first year of what might turn into a three-year contract.

In the meantime, Pasco must form its own sports commission and pay a $1,000 fee to affiliate with the Florida foundation. It doesn't mean reinventing the wheel. Nineteen other local sports commissions exist across the state, and Pasco could decide to allow its tourism advisory panel to wear another hat and sit as the sports commission. The payoff is the ability to leverage local dollars with state assistance to bring youth and adult sports tournaments to the county.

It's a modest investment and should generate nearly immediate and measurable benefits. Many of the tourism grants handed out by Pasco help promote local events such as Chasco Fiesta, the Flapjack Festival and the Kumquat Festival, which don't traditionally spike business in overnight accommodations. The lacrosse tournament backers estimate the 40 teams with 20-player rosters could generate 480 bed nights at area motels.

Both the assistance for the lacrosse tournament and the formation of the local sports commission need the blessing of Pasco County commissioners. Barring an unforeseen blip in negotiations, the commission would be wise to approve this idea to help make Pasco a destination for amateur sporting events.

[Last modified April 19, 2007, 08:00:08]

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