Meet the 2019 Sports Tourism Excellence Award Winners

By Connect Sports Staff, September 10, 2019

Sports tourism excellence awards 2019Connect Sports is pleased to introduce to you the winners of the 2019 Connect Sports Tourism Excellence Awards, presented by SportsNC. These people, events and facilities were recognized at Connect Sports in Louisville, Kentucky. Congratulations to all!



Sports Event Organizer of the Year (For-Profit)

Larry Thompson, Jr., Owner and CEO of Grand Slam Sports Tournaments

Thompson has overseen the event grow from one week long event in Panama City Beach, Florida, to four-week long events, notes Larry Titus from Grand Slam Tournaments. In 2019, the company will play host to more than 400 youth baseball teams from more than 20 states. Thompson He was recently named the Businessman of the Year by the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce as well as received the Champion of Economic Impact Award. Even with the growth, Larry still runs the day-to-day business of Grand Slam as the sole owner and CEO.

Sports Event Organizer of the Year (Nonprofit)

Kerry Diedrich, Women and Girls in Soccer (WAGS)

WAGS is a primarily volunteer-based 501c (3) organization with a mission of empowering girls and women from all over the world through soccer. The WAGS Rael Vodicka Memorial Tournament is a long-standing soccer event hosted over Columbus Day weekend throughout the state of Virginia. It is ranked one of the best girls soccer tournaments in the country and continuously draws teams from more than 25 state associations. Elite Tournaments assists in the mission of WAGS to empower girls and women through sport.

Best Amateur Sporting Event of the Year

American Youth Football National Championship, Kissimmee, Florida

The American Youth Football National Championship is the largest youth American football tournament in the world, says John Poole of the Kissimmee Sports Commission. The 2018 National Championship, hosted in Kissimmee, Florida, produced 18,743 room nights and $8,226,962.75 in economic impact for the weeklong event.

Community Hero Award

Keith Wallace, Executive Director, Lincolnway Special Recreation Association; Chicago Southland

LWSRA’s mission is to provide recreation and leisure services for individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities while promoting greater disability awareness in the community. Wallace annually raises $30,000 by creating new programs to serve participants with physical conditions. Keith successfully secured capital funds, grant money and donations totaling $4.5 million to build a state-of-the-art recreation center. In 2019, he partnered with the Chicago Southland CVB to bring 57 teams with more than 500 athletes competing for four national titles for the 2019 Toyota USA National Juniors & Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball Association—National Tournaments.

Sports Supplier of the Year

Clay Partain, CSEE; Director of Sports Market Sales, Visit Salt Lake

Partain was instrumental in the successful award of the 2020 Junior Cadet Fencing World Championships in Salt Lake City, notes Connor Shane of USA Fencing. Partain led the team that produced the winning bid and sent members from his team to Dubai to make the presentation.

Hotel Professional of the Year

Tony Arielly, Director of Golf Sales; Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate

One of the biggest events that Arielly assisted in securing at the Omni is the Prospects Cup, says Poole. The Prospects Cup produced 1,932 room nights and was televised. The event helped to sell Kissimmee as a soccer destination.

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