Situated in Virginia’s Blue Ridge region, Salem is a small community within the larger Shenandoah Valley. Despite its size (the population is less than 25,000), Salem has become renowned as a sports-centric city and is often referred to as “Virginia’s Championship City.” All kinds of sports events are held in this Southern town, from college-level competition to amateur league play. Every team that visits is welcomed with open arms and true Southern hospitality.
Salem’s interest in sports dates back more than two decades.
“We’ve been in sports marketing for over 20 years,” said Carey Harveycutter, director of civic facilities. “We started back with the very first NCAA Division III football championship, the Stagg Bowl.”
Salem just held the 20th Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in December and looks forward to many more games in the future. In fact, Salem is continuing to add to its repertoire of NCAA tournaments. It was recently awarded the NCAA Division II Women’s Lacrosse Championship for 2014. This is in addition to its current lineup, which includes the Division II Softball Championships (hosted for 19 years), Division III Men’s Basketball Championship (hosted for 16 years) and Division III Volleyball Championship.
On top of its long list of collegiate sports events, Salem hosts a wide range of statewide, regional and national tournaments. It has welcomed the ASA 18 and under girls softball tournament, and will host the 16 and under girls in the summer of 2014. Portions of the Commonwealth Games—or the official state games—have been held in Salem, most specifically the softball events, bringing close to 100 teams to the city. In June, the Roanoke Valley Horse Show, one of the top all-breed horse shows on the East Coast, comes to town, with between 800 and 1,000 horses competing at the Civic Center. The city is also home to the Salem Red Sox, the Class-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. In 2012, College Club Sports started a national championship, and Salem held the inaugural event at its football stadium. Salem has even accommodated a qualifier for a quidditch tournament. That’s right, Harry Potter fans, brooms and all.
For being such a small city, Salem has managed to attract all these sports events, thanks in large part to its elite collection of athletic venues.
James Moyer Sports Complex
The site of numerous softball tournaments, James Moyer Sports Complex is used nearly every day from March through November. It is predominantly used by the NCAA, Virginia High School League, National Softball Association and Amateur Softball Association of America. It features four fields, a track surrounding the fields, and a large playground area with a basketball half-court, horseshow pits and volleyball court. There is seating for about 2,000 spectators.
Lewis-Gale Medical Center Field
The stadium is home to the Salem Red Sox minor league baseball team and is part of the James E. Taliferro Sports and Entertainment Complex. It was opened in 1995 and offers 6,300 spectators fine views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Salem Civic Center
The Civic Center is also part of the Taliferro Sports and Entertainment Complex. It provides a variety of different facilities that can be transformed to fit the needs of any sports event. The indoor arena can accommodate basketball tournaments and has hosted numerous NCAA events. The complex also features eight tennis courts and two youth baseball fields.
Salem Football Stadium
Opened in 1985, the Salem Football Stadium has become a local icon and has been the home of the NCAA Division III Football Championship game, the Stagg Bowl, since 1993. The facility, primarily used for high school football matches, can also cater to soccer and lacrosse tournaments. It seats 7,157 spectators.
Donald J. Kerr Stadium
Kerr Stadium, located on the campus of Roanoke College, was built in 2006 and is home to the men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey, and the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs. The 1,400-seat stadium features field turf and lights for late-night matches. It is the new host of the NCAA Division II & III Women’s Lacrosse Championships.
While Salem is known for its sports, there are plenty of other attractions and activities in which teams can participate between competitions. If teams want to stick nearby, they can head over to Longwood Park to check out the Salem Museum & Historical Society, which offers free admission to its exhibits and special events.
Roanoke is a short drive from Salem, and teams can enjoy a memorable day at the Center in the Square in downtown, a six-story regional non-profit cultural center. The Center recently underwent renovations and will reopen on May 18. At that time, guests can enjoy exhibits at the History Museum of Western Virginia, O. Winston Link Museum (railroad lore) and the Science Museum of Western Virginia. It also holds the Mill Mountain Theatre and Opera Roanoke. Roanoke’s Taubman Museum of Art has been named the best art museum in Southwestern Virginia.
Salem is close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile non-commercialized route in the mountains with opportunities for camping, hiking, fishing, biking and picnicking. The city is five minutes from the Appalachian Trail, where visitors can explore the natural beauty of the region. They can also enjoy a tube ride down the James River, hit the race track at Thunder Valley go-karts or spend the day shopping at Tanglewood Mall
Much of Salem’s success as a sports destination is because of the people in the community, and the ones who work at the convention and visitors bureau, who are there to help at every turn. The team will work with sports planners to coordinate accommodations at hotels and negotiate the best possible rates. For every NCAA tournament, host families are assigned to each team to make their stay more enjoyable. These families can provide information on activities or places to eat, serving as personal concierges to help teams get from one place to the other.
Getting Here and Getting Around
Salem is centrally located and easy to get to from most of the country. Air service to the region is available through the Roanoke Regional Airport, offering direct flights to nine international airports. Salem is also easily accessible by car, as it is 30 minutes from Interstate 64 and an hour from Interstate 77. Once teams arrive, the best way to get around is by rented car or van. The city is relatively small and most venues are located close to one another.
Salem has deep roots in sports, and that passion remains strong to this day, permeating the small population and emanating from each individual. And while Salem has a solid collection of sports facilities, an impressive resume of successful events, and unparalleled expertise in the sporting world, it is the people in Salem that set it apart. As Harveycutter emphasized, it is good old Southern hospitality, and it keeps sports teams coming back every year.
−By Vanessa Day