When it comes to a particular basketball tournament, Lawrence is on a real winning streak these days.
No, not that tournament — at least not yet.
Lawrence tourism leaders are expecting about 4,000 visitors to come to the city this weekend for the United States Specialty Sports Association’s Best of the Midwest Youth Basketball Tournament.
It is the second-largest basketball tournament the group has hosted in Lawrence in the last three months, and tentative plans call for three more large tournaments this year.
“We’ve found that a lot of people really enjoy the fact that there is a tournament right there in a basketball Mecca,” said Josh Williams, a manager with Midwest Sports Productions, which operates the tournament. “Even though the kids aren’t playing in Allen Fieldhouse, they pull into the parking lots at KU and see it, and that is really a big deal to them.”
This weekend’s tournament — which begins with opening ceremonies on Friday and ends Sunday — is expected to be a bigger boon to the city’s tourism industry than a similar tourney Midwest hosted here in January.
Bob Sanner, director of sports marketing for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, said since the event is over spring break, it is expected to attract more teams that will need to stay overnight in the city. He’s anticipating that the tournament will fill at least 350 hotel rooms in the city.
The tournament, expected to attract 100 teams, also doesn’t provide any meals for participants, so Sanner is predicting it will add sales to local restaurants.
Midwest plans to bring two more tournaments to Lawrence in June, and perhaps one in December. The two summer events likely will be larger than this weekend’s event because it will be easier to attract high school athletes during the summer.
Williams said Lawrence has the potential for youth sporting events to become a major part of its tourism industry, and not just in basketball. His company has run regional softball and baseball tournaments in Lawrence for the past several years. He said he rates the city’s softball facilities as very good, but baseball fields have been tougher to secure. Thus far, he said the availability of gym space for Midwest’s basketball tournaments has been good.
The tournaments use gyms primarily at KU’s Robinson Center, Free State High School, and the city’s Holcomb Park Recreation Center.