Meet the 2019 Sports Tourism Excellence Award Winners

Connect Sports is pleased to introduce to you the winners of the 2019 Connect Sports Tourism Excellence Awards, presented by SportsNC.

2019 Sports Tourism Excellence Awards

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.

LGBTQ Sporting Event of the Year

2018 Gay Games, Paris

The Gay Games in August 2018 attracted more than 10,300 participants and more than 30,000 visitors for the one week of sport competition and culture events. The economic impact was approximately $75 million, according to Kent State University, which performed the study.

Fastest Growing Sporting Event of the Year

Tropical 7’s Rugby; Kissimmee, Florida

The Tropical 7's Rugby event first came to Kissimmee in 2017, when it had 257 athletes and 272 room nights. The event returned in 2018, and increased participants to athletes and 717 room nights. The event returned to Kissimmee again in 2019, and increased its numbers to 900 athletes and 1,182 room nights.

Best Homegrown Sporting Event

Louisville Sports Commission Corporate Games; Louisville, Kentucky

The Louisville Sports Commission Corporate Games presented by Humana is a community-wide event that brings together employees from Louisville-area businesses for a day of friendly competition and employee camaraderie. Now in its third year, the number of companies has nearly doubled—26 in the first year and 44 in 2019. Individual participation also has grown from approximately 1,000 in 2017 to 2,500 in 2019.

Sports Venue of the Year

U.S. Bank Stadium; Minneapolis

Coming off hosting the Super Bowl LII, the stadium was home to the 2019 Men's Basketball Final Four, which welcomed over 72,000 fans for each game. The stadium also hosted the second of a four-year run with the Summer X Games. It is also set to host the first ever stadium event for the NCAA Wrestling Championship in 2020.

Best New Sporting Event

Flag Football World Championship Tour: Battle Orlando

The Battle Orlando event had its first event in January 2019 and produced 9,142 room nights and $3,405,477.20 in economic impact. In addition, the event also promoted local partners in various ways, including having registration at the House of Blues in Disney Springs and having booths at their event selling attraction tickets.

Best Adult Sporting Event of the Year

Urban Bourbon Half Marathon; Louisville, Kentucky

The 13.1-mile course pours through the settings that make Louisville unique and showcases 200 years of bourbon heritage and culture. The 2018 UBHM saw 3,827 registrants from 41 states and four countries; 50 percent of race participants came from outside the metro area. The 2018 event generated a profit of $124,039, an increase of 45% from the 2017 event.