News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012
EVANS, Ga. -- If you've noticed more out-of-state license plates this week, you're not crazy. The Division II NCAA National Soccer Championships are underway in Evans.
They're one of the big sports bringing in a booming business. There are hundreds of people in town for this tournament with teams from as far away as Vancouver, California and Michigan -- and they're expected to spend up to half a million dollars while they're here.
Anna Short flew in from Michigan to watch her son, Bobby, play soccer on the national level.
"This is their first time to the Final Four. He's been playing soccer since he was probably 5. So yeah, we're excited," said Short of Goodrich, Mich., and Saginaw Valley State.
Short said at first, she had no clue where Blanchard Woods Park was.
"They said Evans, Georgia. I didn't know where it was at, didn't even know what was the major city around here until we looked," she said.
"It's a pretty nice area, we came in, drove up through Augusta this morning -- just coming up to find the fields, find where we'll be tonight and really nice area," said Todd McCrory, who's in town from Pensacola to watch his daughter on University of West Florida women's team.
The Augusta-metro area is becoming more popular with sporting events like the Division II NCAA National Championships. Just this week the city announced a new semi-pro basketball team coming back to town.
"It's a huge segment of tourism and a huge economic generator for our community," explained Brinsley Thigpen, CEO for the Augusta Sports Council.
"This is just the beginning. When folks see these types of tournaments, they think you know, there's other things that can be brought in as well, and it's positioning us well for the future," added Randy DuTeau, executive director Columbia County CVB.
The Augusta Sports Council estimates that in 2011, this area saw $17.5 million of economic impact for sporting events. This year, they expect it to top $20 million.
"It's important for everyone to see that sports are still growing when maybe some other areas of our economy aren't doing so well," Thigpen said.
"I'm going back to the hotel today to pick up my wife, we'll go eat and find a mall and do something to kill some time and then of course after the game tonight, we'll do it again. And hopefully, if they win, we'll kill all day tomorrow," McCrory said.
"The restaurants are aware of it, the convenience stores, the gas stations, and when these events come to town, all we're saying -- thank you!" DuTeau said.
And Short said she hopes they're here all weekend and go home with a big win.
"We're not flying out until Sunday morning after we can celebrate Saturday night," she said.
Earlier this week Columbia County gave tentative approval to bring back a large bass fishing tournament and power boat races next year to the lake. Blanchard Woods Park is contracted to host the soccer tournament again next year.
They're also planning for more improvements at the park, including a new skate park and BMX track. There's a public design meeting requesting your feedback Monday, Dec. 7, at 6 p.m. for the skate park meeting or 7 p.m. for the BMX track at the Savannah Rapids Pavillion.