May 23, 2014 10:37:25 AM
In 25 years working in parks and recreation, Roger Short has been a part of his share of large undertakings. If you have ever driven by Propst Park in the summer and seen the softball and baseball tournaments that the city of Columbus has hosted over the years, you have an inkling of the planning and organization it takes to put on an event with tens of teams from out of town.
This weekend, Short, the city of Columbus, the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, and all of the area's hotels, restaurants, and businesses will experience the next level of youth sports, as 120 teams are expected to descend on Columbus for the Mississippi Soccer Association's Presidents Cup. The annual event is the state's largest soccer tournament, and it is the first time Columbus is playing host to an event of this size. Four to five thousands players, fans, parents, and family members from throughout the state will be in Columbus today through Sunday for the Division II tournament, which serves as a regional qualifier for many of the participating teams this weekend.
"I feel confident," said Short, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority. "I have wrapped my mind around (the size of the event) and I feel confident we are going to handle it. Sometimes I have felt overwhelmed, but I think we can handle it."
Short, Columbus Mayor Robert Smith, CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter, Harry Sanders, president of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, and Tom Velek, tournament director for the Presidents Cup, all made comments Thursday afternoon on the eve of the city's undertaking. All of the participants said everyone has come together through 12-14 months of planning to make sure all of the details have been worked out and that the city is ready to roll out to the turf and to play 220 games in a span of three days.
That number of games dwarfs the workload Short has tackled with Amateur Softball Association tournaments and Dizzy Dean baseball tournaments with 50-60 teams at Propst Park. Despite the difference in size of the events, though, Short, who was accompanied by CLRA program director Greg Lewis, feels there are similarities that will make handling the added responsibilities manageable. He also praised the city and the county and called Carpenter "a jewel" for her willingness to get behind the project and support it financially.
With more than $2 million expected to be generated for the city this weekend, Short said the pressure to make a good first impression to help convince MSA officials to bring the event back to Columbus won't deter anyone from putting on a first-class event, just like all of the other events the city has played host to.
"I have all of the confidence in the world we can pull this thing off," Short said. "Everything we do -- pretty much -- in parks and recreation when it comes to tournaments is about economic impact and how many people we can bring into town to stay at our hotels, eat our food, buy our gas, and on and on and on. I don't feel pressured by that. I am real excited about that."
The majority of the matches will be at the $5 million Columbus Soccer Complex, which opened in September 2012. Others will be played at the Cook Soccer Complex and the field at Columbus High School.
A second restroom and a second concession stand have been added to the complex since it opened. The facilities at the Hitching Lot Farmer's Market along 2nd Avenue North will be open during the tournament. Portable restrooms also will be available.
In addition, three new parking areas created last year bring the total number of parking spaces available at and around the complex to 800.
Reports from William Browning were included in this report.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.