Youth sports has become a force to be reckoned with in Northeast Mississippi. Cities know this and park and recreation improvements are beneficial as they compete for the opportunity to host major youth sports tournaments, which in turn, bolster the local economy.

But there is more to it than that. In most cases, if a city can support one tournament, it can support more. In Tupelo, sports facilities, while good for the residents, also attract tourism and tournaments.

The soccer, softball, and baseball complexes and the Tupelo Aquatic Center attract strong participation, and many tournaments and swim meets have brought thousands of visitors to the city. Tomorrow, the Aquatic Center will host the 2019 USA Synchronized Swimming Masters Championship.

In addition to hosting these type events, Tupelo is able to keep people who come for the tournaments sometimes for stays of several days. Teams come into town, rent hotel rooms, fill the restaurants, buy gas, and shop in the stores. Local businesses all derive benefit.

To expand youth sports tourism opportunities, city officials recently approved $2.2 million for landscaping and installation work to replace the natural grass fields at several city ballparks with artificial turf. The entire project is estimated to be completed by spring of 2020.

Events had to be cancelled because of rain this spring for more than 150 teams because they were unable to use the natural grass fields during inclement weather, according to Alex Farned, the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“This is also going to help the city with attracting different events and baseball, softball,” Farned said. “It’s going to allow us to have bigger tournaments to draw from possibly out of state.”

BankPlus SportsPlex at Ballard Park already has three fields with artificial turf, so the new project will lead to a total of 12 fields at the park that have artificial turf.

The money for the project is coming from the product development fund out of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, which anticipates bringing a lot of visitors to Tupelo and increasing the amount of money that is spent in Tupelo when people come to the area for sporting events.

Youth sports involve more than just the youth on the field. Whether it’s baseball, softball, soccer or swimming, it all packages together into a family event. Admission tickets, along with hotel accommodations, gas, food and other items, quickly add up and can impact a city’s economy.

Supporters of sports complex improvements know Tupelo must be competitive with cities of similar size in what it offers that will attract tournaments and tourism dollars related to sports.

Tupelo was among the first cities in Mississippi to fully develop its city parks and recreation programs. A consistently successful, broadly based program with professional staff, extensive training, and strong organization skills has earned public confidence.

Tourism is a clean, relatively stable industry that brings dollars into a community that turn over many times. Investments like these park improvements are needed to turn opportunities into reality for local youth sports tourism.

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