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Brice Cherry: How to make Waco a sports mecca

Posted: 02/29/2016

BRICE CHERRY, Tribune-Herald sports editor

It usually doesn’t take much to get me to agree to a meal.

So when Will Phipps recently invited me to lunch, it was an easy decision. Let’s see — food? Sports talk? Yeah, I’m in.

Phipps, you might recall, is the executive director of the fledgling Greater Waco Sports Commission. The organization, which took shape just last year, promotes a two-fold mission: (1) Generate positive economic impact for Waco by recruiting new sporting events to the area, and (2) to improve the quality of life for the Waco community through those events.

A noble mission, to be sure. In four short months on the job, Phipps has already made some headway in bringing new events to the area.

He worked with the Waco Disc Golf Association to help land the Texas State Disc Golf Championships, which are coming to Cameron Park in April. It’s the first time in the 21-year history of the event that Waco has hosted it.

Other cool stuff is either on the way or at least in the talking stages. Another regatta on the Brazos River. A 5-on-5 statewide soccer event at the Heart O’ Texas Soccer Complex. A 3-on-3 basketball tournament. A lacrosse competition. A Spartan race, where competitors navigate all manner of obstacles before (blissfully) reaching the finish line.

Phipps — and others — are beating the bushes to add such events to an already burgeoning sports schedule in the Heart of Texas. Why, you wonder? Because they’re Heart-healthy.

Translation: They help Waco’s economy.

“The overall impact can be huge,” Phipps said. “Because a lot of times those people are bringing in families, and they’re staying at hotels in Waco and eating at restaurants in Waco and visiting stores and other businesses in Waco.”

The GWSC uses economic indicators to track the impact of a certain event. Some are a bigger cash cow than others. For whatever reason, events involving preteen girls, like volleyball or cheerleading, for instance, seem to provide a boon to the local economy.

However, that doesn’t mean Phipps wants Waco to look like an Andy Grammer concert, with nothing but gum-chewing, emoji-sending sixth-grade girls running around. Hence the variety of the events he’s pursuing. That hearkens back to the second part of the GWSC’s mission statement — enlivening the community.

Basically, you should never be able to say, “There’s just nothing going on this weekend.”

Now here’s where this column takes a turn. It’s not just about Will Phipps and the GWSC’s worthy ambitions. It’s also about you.

For Waco to really become a year-round sporting mecca, volunteers are required. Not just one or two. An army of them.

Many of you already donate your time, energy or money, and that’s great. It’s not as though our athletic venues have been growing cobwebs before now. Take an event like this weekend’s Miracle Match Marathon. Like so many worthy endeavors, the Miracle Match – which features a series of runs of varying lengths, all benefiting the National Marrow Donor Registry – couldn’t happen without Nancy Goodnight and her team of volunteers.

But maybe some of you are looking for that hole where you perfectly fit, like a jigsaw puzzle piece. If you have an interest or expertise in a particular sport, shoot Phipps an email at[email protected]. Maybe you rowed crew in college. Perhaps you’re a deadeye skeet shooter, or a whiz-bang shuffleboard player. Who knows? You may be needed.

Chances are, Phipps might have your name already listed in his database of volunteers. Then again, he might not.

And even if you’re not an expert at anything sports-related, you can still help. Do you know where the good eats are in Waco? Where do you take your out-of-town guests when they visit? Your services are needed, too.

I also attended lunch this past week at the Southwestern Regional Little League Center. (Yes, I will work for food.) That organization naturally hosts a nice showcase for the city every summer with the Southwestern Regional Championships, the stage just before Williamsport. Visitors from around Texas and five other states descend on Waco specifically for that ESPN-televised event.

While our committee was tossing around ideas about how to grow that tournament, McLennan Community College baseball coach Mitch Thompson recalled his experience last year when the Highlanders made it to the Juco World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado. Mitch talked about how the Grand Junction Lions Club served as his team’s official hosts, and how special it made the experience.

“I’ve been to Grand Junction one time, but man, I have a great impression of it,” Mitch said.

No reason that can’t be done in Waco. Phipps understand this, which is why the GWSC has formed a group called the Waco Sports Ambassadors.

Basically, it’s a bunch of people who are blessed with the gift of hospitality, who want to make visitors to our fine city feel welcomed.

It’s not an exclusive club. There’s room for you. If you can drive a van or carry luggage or point someone to your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, you’re more than qualified.

To paraphrase Field of Dreams, if we build it — the hospitality, the spirit of volunteerism, the smiles — people will come.

In the meantime, Phipps will try to keep finding reasons to get them here in the first place. He has grand visions of a 32-team M.T. Rice Holiday Basketball Tournament, perhaps one day in the future taking place at a new mega-court basketball facility.

Does that sound far-fetched, Waco? Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time.

“Five years ago, if you have told people there would be a $250 million football stadium on the Brazos, they would have said, ‘No way,’ ” Phipps said. “Waco is capable of doing big things, sometimes more than we could have ever imagined.”

The more, the merrier.