Good Sports Good Times

October 17, 2006
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Good sports play nice with one another. That's why the proposal to form a West Michigan Sports Authority definitely has to include the Holland and Muskegon areas, as well as Grand Rapids

KentCounty commissioners are expected within the next few weeks to review a committee report that recommends just that, along with funding sources (if any) to which the county may commit.

But the real beauty of the report, which was crafted by Kent County Assistant Administrator Wayman Britt, a former U-M and Detroit Pistons standout, along with a group of interested county commissioners and concerned citizens, is that it's rooted in reality.

Grand Rapids isn't Indianapolis or St. Louis, and it shouldn't try to be.

As Britt points out, cities of that size and scope attract major sporting events like the NCAA Final Four in basketball or any of a number of conference tournaments at the collegiate level.

Having pro sports franchises — and the accompanying facilities — will do that for you.

But that's not to say Grand Rapids will be left with second-tier events. Besides, the emphasis of the sports authority is to attract visitors to the area, not necessarily provide Division I athletic entertainment (although no one would turn that down).

Grand Rapids is what it is: A friendly, mid-major (to steal from the sports vernacular) town that has a modern convention center and arena, along with some very nice hotels and other amenities such as shopping and outdoor recreation spots.

In short, it's a great family place.

That's what gives West Michigan the home-team advantage when it comes to attracting events. While Van Andel Arena has played host to some Division I hockey games and Big Ten women's basketball, its bread and butter has been events like Select Bank's Thanksgiving basketball tournament featuring some of the best Division III schools in the area.

These days, sports are a major influence on family life. Most people with children have them participating in some sport or other, whether it's Little League baseball, girls AAU volleyball or basketball, or travel hockey clubs. And on most weekends, these parents and their families are traveling to somewhere in Michigan or the surrounding states to watch their kids compete. In many cases, they are staying overnight for weekend tournaments and spending money at restaurants and malls in those cities.

Those are the types of events West Michigan could capture with a concerted and coordinated effort from a sports authority.

In addition to the nice facilities and friendly people, West Michigan also has little in the way of traffic congestion and, frankly, it's pretty safe to walk the streets at night.

A sports authority makes sense for West Michigan, especially one as grounded in reality as the one described in the committee's upcoming report.    

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