2019 0630 youth soccer

Traveling teams for regional tournaments, such as the U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships held last year in Barboursville, provide a tourism opportunity for communities to capitalize on. 

The Village of Barboursville is about to enhance its position as a regional center for youth sports. It’s a wise move.

At a regular meeting last week, Barboursville Village Council members approved the first phase of a $1.8 million project that includes installing artificial turf, lighting and other improvements at the village’s Soccer Complex this year.

The improvements will transform those fields into a planned outdoor facility that can be converted for soccer, football, lacrosse and baseball/softball. A 60,000-square foot indoor facility is planned for an eventual second phase of the project. It could include batting cages, volleyball courts and indoor fields.

A multi-use sports complex has been a goal for many of the village’s administrations over the years. It became more of a priority in recent years thanks to the success in hosting several national youth soccer tournaments, said Mayor Chris Tatum.

“In 2009, when travel soccer began coming through our town here, they realized what a tax benefit that was to B&O taxes, the hotel and motel tax and from having all those people in town,” he told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Travis Crum. “You have hotel rooms full from Clendenin to below Grayson.”

According to Google Maps, those two communities are about 63 miles and 39 miles from Barboursville, respectively.

Last year, the U.S. Soccer Eastern Regional Championships brought 225 state champion teams from 13 states to West Virginia to compete for a chance to participate in the national tournament. The tournament was so large that it needed the facilities of both the Barboursville Soccer Complex and the Shawnee Sports Complex at Dunbar.

Sports tourism is a special opportunity. Instead of expecting people to come here and partake of unique entertainment options, it brings in families who stay several days to enjoy the companionship of other families from other areas who share the same passions.

Barboursville may get the most benefit from these large tournaments, but its experience shows the benefits are shared by the entire region and cross state lines.

“This project has been a long time coming, and I think this furthers our commitment to not only our youth, but to our citizens,” Tatum told Crum. “This facility, as it continues to develop over the next few years, will be something that all of our residents will be proud of and something that everyone can utilize.”

Meanwhile, people in Lawrence County, Ohio, are working on a sports tourism project that appeals to a different demographic. As reported by David E. Malloy, officials there are seeking a $3.5 million state grant to help fund what would eventually be a $35 million complex north of Ironton.

The first phase would include outdoor sports, said Ralph Kline, assistant executive director of the Ironton Lawrence County Community Action Organization. The complex could be connected to Lake Vesuvius in the Wayne National Forest for activities such as ATV and mountain biking trails, he said. It also could connect to Storms Creek for kayaking, he said.

The area could be used for individual activities or for organized competitions.

“We could make Ironton a weekend destination for all types of sports activities,” said Lawrence County Commissioner DeAnna Holliday. “We haven’t tapped into the full potential of the Wayne National Forest.”

The success of soccer in Barboursville and ATV trails in southern West Virginia show that tourism is more than festivals, ball games and concerts. It’s a wide-ranging industry whose potential is growing. It’s hard to say how long it will be before the field is saturated when every community tries to duplicate what we have here. Local officials are wise to be out front in this effort.

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