Peter Francesconi 2014-05-06 05:08:50
Sports Continue to Grow in the “City of Colleges” TRAVEL ABOUT 30 MILES north of Little Rock, Arkansas, on I-40 and you’ll come to the city of Conway, one of the fastest-growing areas in the state and one of the most attractive sports destinations around. Since 1990, attracted by the quality of life and the area’s natural beauty, the population of Conway has more than doubled, to about 66,000. Yet the city still easily retains its small-town charm and community spirit. “Yes, we are constantly growing,” says Rachel Earls, the director of destination marketing for the Conway Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But for all that growth, we’re still basically a small town, with a comfortable feel that makes Conway a welcome destination for all types of sports and activities.” Part of the appeal is the city’s young population; the median age is about 26 years old. What this means is that the firstrate sports facilities and other local amenities are well-suited to groups of young athletes and their families, because they are built and maintained for both the local community and visitors. But also, visitors to Conway benefit from its reputation as the “City of Colleges.” Three institutions of higher learning are situated in the city—the University of Central Arkansas, Central Baptist College and Hendrix College—all of which give Conway a more youth-oriented outlook than many other comparable cities. Graduates of the three schools often stay in the area to live and work (nearly 40 percent of Conway’s adults have a post-secondary degree), which further reinforces the focus on youth. The three colleges contribute greatly to the sports scene in Conway, too. With a focus on facilities needed for young athletes, the city-owned sports parks include a skate park, disc golf, soccer complex and new baseball and softball complexes. Plus, off the field, there is an array of other recreational and cultural activities to enjoy. “We have first-rate sports facilities here, coupled with a very convenient location right off the Interstate, and a clean and safe community, with plenty to do for families and athletes when they’re not competing,” says Earls. “Between the facilities at our three colleges and those maintained by our Parks and Recreation Department, Conway can accommodate thousands of participants and spectators every year for everything from baseball and softball to soccer, volleyball and basketball. Plus, we have facilities that can host cheer, dance, gymnastics and more.” Baseball and Softball “Baseball is one of the most active sports in Conway,” says Earls. “We have really nice, new venues for baseball, which constantly attract activity and tournaments.” One of the newest is the exceptional Conway Station Park, a nine-diamond complex that offers eight fields with a 225- foot-long fence and one field with a 350- foot-long fence, along with concessions and covered stands. “It’s a really nice brick facility located in the center of town, near hotels and shopping,” says Earls. Shortly after Conway Station Park was opened, it was voted 2011 Sports Facility of the Year by the Arkansas Recreation and Parks Association. One of the top softball parks in the region is City of Colleges Park, completed in 2009, which offers five fields, all with lights. City of Colleges Park also is the home field for the national champion Central Baptist College women’s softball team. There are three adult softball diamonds and a lighted baseball field at Beaverfork Lake in north Conway, located on 25 acres, which also has areas for fishing, swimming and boating. There is also a lighted baseball field with two covered dugouts at the 15-acre Curtis Walker Park, and yet another lighted adult softball field is at Fifth Avenue Park, complete with two covered dugouts. Soccer and More “Soccer is also huge in Conway,” says Earls, “and we not only have the excellent Centennial Soccer Complex, but also two of our colleges have soccer facilities, as well as a big soccer arena at our high school. In addition, we have five other soccer fields available in town.” The 51.5-acre Centennial Soccer Complex has 12 fields, four with lights, along with a concession stand, coach/referee room, restrooms and office space. The Central Baptist College Mustangs play their home games at the Centennial Complex and it’s also home to the Arkansas Rush Soccer Club, which means soccer events coming into Conway will have plenty of community support. The Bill Stephens Track/Soccer Complex at the University of Central Arkansas opened in 2009. In addition to adjacent fields, the natural grass main field features an advanced drainage system that provides a safe, consistent playing surface, along with lights for night play. Hendrix College also offers a soccer/ lacrosse field. “It’s one of the few colleges in Arkansas that participates in lacrosse,” says Earls. “With this field, and with all the other fields we have available in the city, we’d love to be able to bring in some lacrosse tournaments in months when it’s colder in the East and milder here in Arkansas.” Don Owen Complex The 125-acre Don Owen Complex includes six tee-ball fields and three lighted adult softball fields, along with restrooms and a concession area. The Don Owen Complex also is home to the Conway Sports Center, which houses three basketball courts, six volleyball courts, four racquetball courts and a 1/8-mile, three-lane walking track, in addition to a large meeting room that can hold up to 100 people. Also at the Don Owen Complex is the Faulkner County Rodeo Arena, which consists of a large barn and a small barn, a large rodeo arena, corral areas, two announcer stands, restrooms and a concession area. There are pavilions and playgrounds on the property, too—and plenty to keep families busy while attending events with young athletes. Other indoor facilities in Conway include the state-of-the-art, 40,800-squarefoot Conway Expo Center, located at the Faulkner County Fairgrounds. The Expo Center, completed in September 2010, also has 6,222 square feet of meeting space and an open-air pavilion with 55,000 square feet of space, complete with power and water. The McGee Center, on 11 acres, offers three basketball courts, six volleyball courts and a walking track. The 46,600- square-foot facility also includes large and small meeting rooms. Adjacent to the McGee Center is the Conway Skate Park, which can accommodate skateboarding and inline skating. Another indoor facility capable of hosting basketball, volleyball, cheer and gymnastics events and more is the 1,800-seat Buzz Bolding Arena on the campus of Conway High School. Well-Run, Well-Maintained “We’re extremely fortunate here in Conway,” says Earls. “This community is very sports-minded, so the facilities we have to offer, between the city and the three colleges, are phenomenal. Thanks to the great work by the Parks and Recreation Department, the city-owned sports venues are all well-run and well-maintained, which athletes, their parents and spectators really appreciate.” And with 11 parks, two lakes, art galleries, a community theater, and more, visitors to the area will never lack for things to do. The city has more than 1,200 hotel rooms to offer, many less than five years old. Additionally, there are more than 120 restaurants of all types, to fit any budget. Weather-wise, average high temperatures range from 50 degrees in January to about 90 in July. Conway continues to grow. Recently it was announced that two new shopping centers will be built in the next few years, which will continue to add to the options the city offers visitors and athletes when not on the field. The Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau offers many services to help organizers run successful events, including assistance in finding accommodations, transportation, volunteers and more. The CVB also has funds available to help with advertising and promotion. “We do all we can to help event rights holders, coaches and athletes,” says Earls. “It’s all about offering a great experience, and we know our combination of hospitality, family-friendliness and excellent services and facilities will make tournaments and sports events memorable for all involved.”
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