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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Commentary

With high school championships, athletes and communities win


Published:

For thousands of high school student-athletes around Florida, a state championship tournament represents success — the culmination of months of hard work, dedication, teamwork and sportsmanship. Florida’s fall championship season is under way, so it’s a good time to reflect on the ways both host communities and member schools benefit from championship events.

For the communities that host state finals, the opportunity can mean a welcome boost through an injection of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars into the local economy. At the same time, these events provide the means for all schools across the state to advance the ideals of sportsmanship, dedication and fair play.

The primary mission of the Florida High School Athletic Association is promoting fair competition to help shape today’s student-athletes into tomorrow’s leaders. FHSAA also recognizes its vital role supporting schools and communities across the state, and hosting championship series is a key part of that.

Consider:

Lakeland officials estimate their community has drawn $8.1 million a year from hosting the FHSAA basketball and wrestling finals.

Experience Kissimmee says competitive cheerleading, weightlifting and volleyball championships last school year brought in 18,000 visitors, 3,500 hotel room nights and an economic impact of $1.7 million.

The Lee County Sports Authority projected an economic impact to the community of $1.4 million from hosting this year’s state baseball finals at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.

Visit Jacksonville said its community gained $5.6 million from hosting the state track and field championships the last two years.

Last year, FHSAA awarded 246 state championship titles in 32 sports, with up to eight size-based classifications per sport. Before teams even earn the right to compete in the finals, almost 3,700 post-season games are hosted by local high schools, including districts, regionals and state semi-finals. Playoff events leading up to the state final are a $6-million-a-year business, and 85 percent of the revenue — some $5.1 million — is pumped directly into high school athletic programs.

From football championships in Orlando to competitive cheerleading in Kissimmee, from tennis in Seminole County to swimming and diving in Stuart, communities across Florida benefit economically from hosting FHSAA championships. Hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions enjoy an infusion of visitors, and the economic benefit for a community is tangible.

“This is such a meaningful event to our community,” says Paul Astleford, president and CEO of Visit Jacksonville, about the track and field state championships. “Not only because we get to see young people being active and succeeding, but because the event’s impact on our local economy helps support hundreds of jobs each year in the hospitality community.”

FHSAA is committed to providing student-athletes with the once-in-a-lifetime experience of competing for the biggest prize in their sport at a first-class facility, with all the trappings of a true championship event. Host communities go out of their way to ensure that these special opportunities are emblazoned forever in the memories of the young competitors who earn the right to be there.

As Mike LaPan, executive director of The Lakeland Center, notes, “The opportunity to host these incredible student-athletes … is both an honor and an economic boon for our area. The economic impact as well as the excitement shown by all the participants is enjoyed by the community.”

Florida high school athletic championships are about acknowledging success.

For the student-athletes, the championships represent the ultimate reward for putting in the time and effort to succeed, both on the field and in the classroom.

For the host communities, championships are an opportunity to showcase their best amenities while reaping the benefits of creating top-notch events.

No matter the outcome of the competition, this is one area where everyone can come out a winner.

Linda Robertson is associate executive director for business of the Florida High School Athletic Association, based in Gainesville. She is a former public school chief financial officer and deputy superintendent of business.

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