With glorious fall weather in the forecast, 56 teams will compete for athletic glory today through Saturday during the Georgia High School Association state softball tournament at the South Commons Softball Complex.
This is the 15th straight year Columbus is hosting the event. And it's the biggest yet, with 16 more teams competing for a total of 56, after the GHSA added a classification and split Class A to have both public- and private-school tournaments.
Columbus High is the only local team to qualify, but no matter which schools capture the seven classification championships, the city's economy will be a winner.
The three-day tournament is expected to draw an estimated 2,100 out-of-town folks, filling nearly 500 room nights in local hotels and motels, said Peter Bowden, president and CEO of the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau. Combined with the visitors' dining and shopping, the tournament is expected to generate about $380,000 in business, Bowden said.
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"Multiply that over (the) years, and it's pretty significant," he said.
Bowden praised the Columbus Sports Council and the Columbus Parks & Recreation Department in particular and the entire community in general for helping to keep the GHSA coming back.
"We have great facilities, great volunteers and staff, infrastructure, hotels, restaurants and night life," Bowden said.
Just ask Ernie Yarbrough, associate director of the GHSA. "No. 1, obviously the facility, when it was built for the Olympics, it was state-of-the-art," he said. "Even though it has aged since 1996, they still do a good job of keeping it first class. Then you have the sports council and parks & rec doing such a great job. Their efforts really relieve a lot of the logistical issues from us."
New this year is a $70,000 upgrade to the fields, said Herbert Greene, the sports council's director.
But the council's volunteers -- a list of 200 and a nucleus of 25 -- haven't needed refurbishing.
"Thank goodness for them," Greene said. "Some of them have been there since '96. They are the backbone. We can't do this without them."
In this age of strictly worded contracts, the softball tournament agreement with the GHSA is simply sealed each year with a handshake, Yarbrough said.
The GHSA gets the gate, and the parking revenue stays here.
"We're not looking for another place," he said.