Officials from the city of Rocky Mount and the USA South Conference met at a press conference Thursday to award the city the rights to the conference’s spring sports championships beginning in 2013.
The two-year agreement between Rocky Mount and the USA South will feature the conference’s championship banquet and conference tournaments in six sports held in Rocky Mount and the surrounding areas.
Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs said the city was ecstatic to have been awarded the event, which will take place April 11-14, 2013.
“Our real goal is to have this here much longer than the two-year commitment,” Combs said.
The USA South selected Rocky Mount, home to conference member N.C. Wesleyan, over Burlington, where the spring sports has played their championships for seven years before the switch.
In order to meet the needs of the USA South, the city in February completed the building of a new tennis facility on the campus of N.C. Wesleyan to complement the other facilities it had for the conference’s use.
“Rocky Mount really stepped up and gave us everything we asked for,” USA South commissioner Rita Wiggs said. “We had no qualms about picking Rocky Mount after the tennis facility was announced.”
The USA South’s softball and women’s lacrosse championships will be played at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex, golf will take place at Benvenue Country Club and baseball will be split between Fleming Stadium in Wilson and Five County Stadium in Zebulon.
Both men’s and women’s tennis will take place at the new tennis complex, which N.C. Wesleyan athletics director John Thompson said arrived at the perfect time.
“If you look at our tennis program over the last five years, you’ve seen a lot of success and growth,” he said. “The city’s push to get the championships really coincided with the way our program had been moving.”
James Gray, N.C. Wesleyan President and the Chairman of the Rocky Mount Organizing Committee, asked the conference in the spring of 2010 if it would be willing to relocate its spring championships, then initiated a bid when the conference said it was open to moving.
With the facilities already available to the city, and the addition of the tennis complex, the city was able to surpass Burlington for the honor.
“It’s true that I’m not welcome in the city of Burlington anymore,” Gray joked. “When I drive through, I keep my windows up.”
With more than 1,600 hotel rooms available to visitors, 55 parks and many restaurants, Rocky Mount and Nash County officials believed the partnership worked for both sides involved.
Like the Down East Viking Football Classic, an annual week-long event centered around Elizabeth City State and capped with a football game, the city found that athletics are the area’s ticket to hosting bigger events.
The Down East Viking Classic is one of the bigger draws for the city each year, and acquiring the USA South spring championships should be another financial boon for the city, said Robbie Davis, the Chairman of the Nash County Tourism Development Authority.
“When you think about it, most of our biggest events are sports related,” Davis said. “The largest number of people we have visiting are for sports. We do pretty well with reunions and things like that, but you can’t overlook how important sports are to this community.”
Davis doesn’t see that changing any time soon.
The Tourism Authority’s goal is to keep hosting big athletics events like the USA South championships.
“Rocky Mount has a great history of high school sports for the last 70, 80 years,” Davis said. “There’s no question we love sports, and there’s no question we need sports.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com