North Carolina has opened its doors to a dynamic collection of sports events for years, welcoming athletes from all walks of life
Sports have long been a part of North Carolina’s culture, an important fiber in the being of the state. Home to three professional sports teams, North Carolina is also known for its strong collegiate basketball past, including the rivalry between Duke and the University of North Carolina. Today, North Carolina plays host to a variety of sports events, from professional competitions and collegiate tournaments to regional championships and international athletics. The state has even welcomed some offbeat events, truly diversifying its collection of elite athletic contests.
“Like its diverse footprint that scales from the mountains to the coast, North Carolina has a storied history of hosting a variety of sporting events,” says Travis Dancy, board chairman of SportsNC, the marketing brand of the North Carolina Sports Association. “Our ‘state to play’ mantra encompasses the entire participation gamut, no matter what the origin or background.” This mentality has been seen in the variety of sports events that are being held in the state, and the kind of experiences sports planners have come across in North Carolina.
The Camel City Elite Races, started in 2013, has become a signature event in Winston-Salem. From humble beginnings of just one race—the men’s mile—the event has evolved and expanded to include many more races and some elite athletes. During the 2016 invitational, the city welcomed some of the top track & field athletes to compete, including Lolo Jones, Ashton Eaton, Shannon Rowbury, Nick Symmonds and Leo Manzano.
“It is a real special environment to be able to bring these athletes to Winston-Salem,” says Craig Longhurst, of JDL Fast Track, which runs the event. “To take them to schools for community outreach programs and see the excitement that these athletes can generate for the sport and the community.” The 2017 event will be held in February and marks the fifth year of the race. Through the years, it has grown into a top track & field competition, and organizers hope to bring in more Olympic athletes and bring the event to a national media audience.
Greenville recently played host to the East Coast Kukkiwon Cup for the second year in a row. This national taekwondo competition, founded by Kukkiwon, the official taekwondo governing organization, has been held all over the country. The East Coast tournament had over 4,000 attendees, including the athletes, their families and spectators. Fans descended on the Greenville Convention Center to see rising high school juniors and seniors compete in the Kyeroogi (sparring) division and the elite Poomsae (form) division. In addition, attendees experienced Korean culture, with free Korean tea ceremony and cooking classes.
Another display of North Carolina’s diverse sports events is the ESA Easterns® Surfing Championships, being hosted in Nags Head, North Carolina. The Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) is the largest amateur surfing association in the world and hosts activities up and down the East Coast. The Easterns® is the grand finale of the surfing season, where the best of the best surfers go head to head.
The US Tennis Association’s North Carolina division has hosted many large events throughout the state, from adult leagues to junior tournaments. “USTA North Carolina thoroughly enjoys hosting large events in the Wilmington and Beaches area,” says Caroline Downs, junior & college league coordinator. “The CVB is always willing to assist in everything needed to put on a top-notch event.” Not only does the CVB assist the organization with booking hundreds of discounted rooms, but they also take that extra step by donating gifts for players. “The local restaurants and tourist attractions are a huge added bonus,” Downs says.
The Lake Norman Soccer Club Fall Classic has been a staple of the community for 25 years. Held the weekend before Thanksgiving, the tournament attracts teams from all across North Carolina, as well as teams from Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The Fall Classic has grown to over 200 teams, with players ranging from age nine to 18.
A notable event that took place just this past summer was the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials. Staged in Charlotte, the event marked the first time in U.S. Paralympic history that two sports were contested simultaneously. The trials featured competitions in swimming and track & field at venues around Charlotte, showcasing top athletes hoping to secure a spot in the Games in Rio. In addition, Charlotte also hosted the 2016 U.S. Paralympic cycling time trial right after the swimming and track & field trials.
It is clear from this collection of sports events that North Carolina has been and will continue to be a place where all sports events are welcome. This is a message SportsNC wants to share with sports planners, rights holders and people all over the country. “No matter the size of the event or makeup, SportsNC eagerly awaits the opportunity to partner to the success of any event and establish a long-term partnership,” says Dancy.
North Carolina has always had a passion for sports, and that shows in the reception cities give to incoming athletes, coaches and their fans. The state has increased awareness among sports planners that it is a top sports destination, and it continues to reach out to new and exciting events in the hopes of drawing them to its borders. North Carolina’s sports organizations are eager to welcome more events to the state and will continue to invite athletes from all over the world and all walks of life.