Sports Panel Worthy Of Kent's Consideration

July 10, 2006
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Grand Rapids has minor league hockey, baseball, football and basketball teams. Its nearby colleges play some of the best ball in the nation (GRCC baseball, GVSU women’s basketball and Calvin men’s basketball, to name a few, all boast national championship trophies.)

But is Grand Rapids a sports town?

It’s worth finding out.

Kent County commissioners for the next few weeks will be determining what role, if any, they will play in the formation of a proposed sports commission for West Michigan.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia is marshaling the forces to attract sporting events to the area as a new source of revenue, both at the retail and lodging levels.

Kent County’s role in such a sports panel is crucial. Its presence lends instant credibility to the endeavor, its sterling financial track record bodes well for fundraising, and, as a public entity, it virtually assures long-term support for the project.

Yes, times are tight financially. And, yes, initial posturing puts the lodging excise tax squarely in the bull’s-eye, even though that pot of gold’s fund balance will run out sooner rather than later at the current rate of spending.

But, still, the concept is worthwhile.

West Michigan over the years has played host to some interesting sporting events, among them a Grand Prix auto race and a professional golf tournament, both of which drew regional — if not national — attention to the area.

However, much of Grand Rapids’ appeal remains local.

Apparently, West Michigan likes sports. Not every one of the 8,000 people in the stands Friday nights at a Rockford High School football game can be related to a Ram player. The same can be said for those watching South Christian boys basketball or Lowell girls basketball.

There are several strong girls AAU basketball programs in the region, among them the Western Lakers, Lakeside Hoops and Grand Rapids Lightning. These teams play competition from throughout Michigan and neighboring states, and overnight stays are not uncommon for the families of players.

At the next level, NCAA hockey has always been a popular draw at Van Andel Arena. And it wasn’t too long ago that the Big Ten brought several girls basketball teams here, much to the delight of the above-mentioned AAU programs and basketball fans in general.

Much has changed since the days of the old Grand Rapids Owls hockey team — or the Grand Rapids Hoops, for that matter. The sports scene in general is far more sophisticated.

But one thing remains constant: People in West Michigan are interested in sports.

Translating that interest into revenue and recognition for the region is a tall order. A regional sports commission, however, would go a long way toward making that happen.

A dedicated cadre of interested and skilled people is essential.

And Kent County is the perfect cleanup hitter in a lineup that is sure to attract some of this area’s top promoters and fundraisers.  

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