Look at a map of the United States, concentrating on the East Coast. There are a lot of states there, and right in the middle of that jumble of jurisdiction is the state of Maryland.
Maryland, home to the United States Naval Academy, the city of Baltimore and the famed Chesapeake Bay, borders the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, and comes awfully close to having a shared border with New Jersey. Maryland also borders the District of Columbia.
The states along the Eastern seaboard are small in terms of square miles. Recreational sports, especially team sports, require large sports facilities, and Maryland has many to choose from. It makes sense to consider the neighboring states as partners in the process of attracting world-class competitions to the area.
Terry Hasseltine thinks about those types of collaborations frequently. Hasseltine is the executive director of Maryland Sports, the sports commission for the State of Maryland, and it is his job to attract sporting events to the Old Line State and then to support those events as they occur.
Hasseltine wants to attract sporting events to the available fields and complexes within the state of Maryland, but when he participated in the development of plans for Washington, D.C.’s 2024 Olympic Games bid, he realized that Maryland does not operate in a wide open space. It has neighbors – very close neighbors.
“Even though we are in competition, we are constantly looking at our bordering states to figure out if there are strategic ways we can partner with one another,” Hasseltine said. “We surround Delaware on two sides, we border Pennsylvania to its south, we surround half of the District of Columbia, and we border with Virginia. We are always looking at unique regional collaborations. When we were working on the Olympic bid, we were working as the entire capital region, bringing a robust identity to the District of Columbia, knowing Maryland was going to be a benefactor of the entire process.”
There have been examples of collaboration beyond the wide-ranging Olympic bid. The Governor’s Challenge started several years ago as a way to get some of the best basketball teams from Maryland and Delaware together in a tournament. Originally, eight teams were selected from the two states and were joined by four teams selected from other areas in the region. The most recent Governor’s Challenge hosted over 100 teams, included a girls division, and is now the largest December holiday basketball tournament east of the Mississippi.
This year, The Governor’s Challenge received the Locally Created Event of the Year award from the National Association of Sports Commissions. “We generated tremendous economic impact for our area at a slow time of year, and great media coverage of the event, great attendance from college coaches and recruiters,’’ said James Simmons, Assistant Tourism Manager of the Wicomico County Recreation, Parks and Tourism.
Simmons said the tournament brought $1.2 million in economic impact in 2015 and “we are excited to try and build that number every year and bring more of an impact to our community this this event.”
The collaboration is similar to what is taking place inside Maryland’s borders. MAASA, the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance formed in 2014, combines the land and government assets of the two counties with the recreation and hotel facilities of Ocean City, creating the first-ever American coalition of both municipal and county resources for the purposes of attracting sports event business.
The main focus of MAASA is to attract amateur sporting events, and it has done so with the successful relationship it has had with the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) and its Eastern World Series for softball.
USSSA has hosted its Eastern World Series on Maryland’s shore for 10 consecutive years, and the event has grown from 25 area softball teams to this year’s event, which is going to have over 350 teams. It will bring approximately 13,000 visitors to the area and provide three weeks of activity in the height of July’s post-holiday season. This year’s tournament will host teams from a dozen states (from as far away as Illinois) and from Canada as well. Prior years have seen teams come from Alabama, Kentucky and Arkansas.
The Eastern Shore is now home to the Eastern World Series, and its status as the center of softball on the East Coast is obvious from the event’s growth. In 2011, the tournament grew from 85 teams to 161 teams as it opened up to more age and class divisions. Then, in 2012, the tournament grew to 292 teams and in 2013 to 399 teams as Wicomico County joined with Worcester County to provide extra field support. The creation of MAASA soon followed, bringing in the inventory of hotel rooms available from Ocean City.
“Ocean City is a top family vacation destination on the East Coast and all of the amenities and attractions that are available for the enjoyment of our vacationers are here at the read for sports tournament participants– a beautiful 10-mile beach, a world famous Boardwalk filled with attractions, great dining and a fantastic array of accommodations,’’ said Donna Abbott, tourism and marketing director for the Town of Ocean City. “The MAASA partnership has enabled us to broaden our appeal as an amateur sports destination.”
In 2015, the Wicomico County Recreation Park and Tourism department, said the event brought in an estimated $20 million in revenue to the area, with 11,000 hotel room nights booked.
Using a model promoted by Maryland Sports, the state’s own sports commission, MAASA created a relationship between recruiting and marketing efforts in order to present a stronger, larger front.
“The purpose of the MAASA initiative is that as a collective whole, their assets are stronger than they are as single individuals,” Hasseltine said. “At the same time, they have a strong portfolio as single individuals as well. The softball tournament (USSSA World Series) we pursued under that umbrella, knowing that Ocean City has the hotel rooms and the counties have the facilities the event needs to grow to the size it is today.”
“This is something that is very unique,” said Paige Hurley, director of the Worcester County Department of Recreation and Parks. “It is good for our area, to be able to work with two other jurisdictions and combine our inventory and make us more competitive in the field of youth sports, to try and attain events.”
“I think the state of Maryland and other counties in the state have been watching to see how things progress for us,’’ said Kristen Goller, tourism manager for Wicomico County Recreation, Parks and Tourism.
Hurley noted that there are plans in Worcester County for “two or three” new hotels to go up, a sign of the kind of growth MAASA can take advantage of.
MAASA staff includes those who are responsible for finding hotel rooms in the area. The housing professionals ensure teams get the lowest possible price for the accommodations they are looking for. The organization promotes all of the recreational opportunities that exist in Ocean City, including its famed boardwalk accessible from many hotels. MAASA provides planning professionals who lead or assist from the first event meeting to the completion of the event, with emphasis on on-ground logistical support to get players and coaching staff where they need to be.
“For each week of the World Series, we coordinate a team check-in, manager’s luncheon and umpire reception,” Goller said. “We also work with the organizer to plan an opening ceremony for each of the tournament’s three weeks. A program book is designed for each week of the tournament, which includes team rosters and photos. Leading up to and during the tournament, we serve as the liaison with the media, sharing press releases and tournament details.”
MAASA also provides a marketing professional for pre-event advertising and publicity.
The MAASA initiative has produced opportunities for the separate counties involved. In June, the city of Salisbury in Wicomico County will host the Salisbury Summer Faceoff and in November Ocean City will host the Eastern Shore Fall Shootout. Both lacrosse events are operated by the lacrosse organization Laxpaloosa.
This being the first year for a Laxpaloosa event in Wicomico County, organizers capped participation to 30 teams, but the goal is grow the tournament to 80 teams. Early expectations for the economic impact of the tournament reach above $600,000.
While the softball tournament highlights the outdoor facilities and outdoor entertainment available among the MAASA partners, much of the current efforts are aimed toward finding an event that could fill up available facilities in the few months of the year where weather turns attention indoors.
“We have not focused entirely on outdoor events,”Goller said. “Ocean City has a convention center, and we have a Civic Center, and Worcester County has some great indoor facilities, so we have been looking at events like volleyball, basketball and wrestling.”
In Wicomico County, indoor sports can access the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, which has a 5,600-seat arena with 30,000 square feet of competition space. It includes a 10,000-square-foot secondary space with a fixed stage. Also available is the Crown Sports Center, which has five indoor turf fields, one multi-surface court, two volleyball courts and batting cages as well as bleacher seats. The Crown Sports Center is located adjunct to outdoor fields that are available for lacrosse, volleyball, soccer, field hockey, flag football, baseball and softball.
Worcester County has the Worcester County Recreational Center, located in Snow Hill. It can host indoor track events with a four-lane track, sand pit for jumping events, and recently hosted a volleyball tournament with six courts in use concurrently. The arena can also host three basketball games at a time and is available for wrestling events.
Goller, Hurley and Donna Abbott from the Town of Ocean City are the individual contacts for sports events, and they work together whenever an event coordinator makes contact to promote the remarkable level of accessibility and availability of facilities, housing and recreation in the area.
“This collaboration makes a lot of sense,” Goller said. “For three government entities to come together and work through our individual process was time-consuming, but it has been a great collaboration. Paige, Donna and I determine the direction we want MAASA to go. So far it has been a great partnership and communication has been strong.”
The success of MAASA is expected to lead to similar coalitions springing up around the country. Sure, Wicomico, Worcester and Ocean City could have continued hosting events on their own, doing good enough business by themselves. But together they have thrived, realizing quickly that their assets are much stronger and more effective when combined. Through intelligent utilization of each other’s resources and a partnership with USSSA, MAASA’s big three have aided Maryland in economic terms and brought more tournaments to the state than ever before. It’s safe to say that MAASA has changed the amateur athletics game.