ROCKFORD - Visit Beloit and the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau have teamed up to hit what they expect will be a home run for sports tourism in the Stateline this summer.
They have partnered to bring the National Softball Association North Central B-C World Series to the area July 17-21.
The 200 teams involved - the largest girls fastpitch tournament ever in this region - will play at facilities owned and managed by the Stateline Family YMCA and the Rockford Park District, as well as diamonds at the Harlem Community Center and Davis Junction, Ill.
The NSA World Series will involve teams in the 8U, 9U, 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U divisions. RACVB President/CEO John Groh said $2.1 million is expected to be pumped into the region over the course of the tournament as over 5,000 athletes and fans representing 11 states and Ontario are drawn here. They are expected to occupy 4,000 room hotel nights in the Rockford region and an additional 1,600 room nights in Beloit and elsewhere.
"It's good for Rockford and it's good for the area around us," Groh said during the announcement of the venture at Sportscore One. "We're thrilled that we can work collectively to bring this event here."
The YMCA Complex has hosted regional tournaments, but this is the first event of this magnitude.
"We're excited about being able to showcase our facility," YMCA Executive Director Doug Britt said. "They can use all 10 fields there. We plan on doing some upgrades on some of the softball diamonds, including some new fencing and additional top soil in certain areas."
The NSA tournament games are open to the public and there is no admission fee. Britt said the money raised through the facility rental for the tourney as well as concession sales will help fund YMCA programs.
"One of our strategic goals was to get into our underserved areas, such as Hackett, Cunningham and Gaston," he said. "We have a transportation problem with some of the kids in those areas. We actually have a bus that was donated to us that we'll use to bring those kids out to the complex where they can experience soccer, baseball or softball. Hosting this (event) will help us quite a bit to fund that."
Celestino Ruffini of Visit Beloit Executive Director said, "By working cooperatively across the Stateline, our destinations are combining all of the best facilities and partners to create a one-of-a-kind experience that these athletes and families will never forget. The NSA's decision to come to the Stateline area is a major win for our region not only for the economic impact it will create, but also for the opportunity to showcase the best fo what our area has to offer."
That spirit of cooperation was also championed by Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.
"This is really exciting," he said. "Often between us and Beloit you've seen a lot of competition, but this really sets a tone and shows when we collaborate together we can be a stronger region."
Rockford Park District/Mercyhealth Sportscore One manager Marianne Larson said NSA has held state tournaments in Rockford and was pleased with the experience.
"When they approached us about bidding for a large-scale World Series, we were ready, but it was obvious more diamonds needed to be found," she said. "It's was a challenge. We're very grateful to be able to put this on and hopefully it will bring our communities together as partners for the benefit of kids."
It was also announced that the Rockford region and Beloit will be included in the rotation to host future NSA World Series tournaments. Tournament organizers say they hope to be able to work with both destinations every two to four years.