City drumming up support for SWAC festival

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 19, 2002

[09/19/02]Vicksburg officials are trying to rally support this week for an effort to bring the Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball, softball, track, tennis and golf tournaments to the city in May 2003.

South Ward alderman Sid Beauman met with representatives from nearly a dozen Vicksburg-area organizations, as well as from the city’s four casinos, Wednesday at City Hall to present a proposal for a bid for the SWAC Spring Sports Festival.

The city board has already decided to submit a bid to the SWAC if it can get enough community support, Beauman said.

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“The key to the whole deal now is, over the next 2 1/2 weeks, to get a proposal on the table and see what each of these groups can bring to the table,” Beauman said. “We want to empower our constituents to direct us where they want us to go, rather than us tell them we’re doing this.'”

After Wednesday’s meeting, several representatives wanted to investigate the festival’s economic impact on Shreveport, which has hosted the festival the last two years.

They agreed to meet again Tuesday morning at City Hall, but Beauman felt the outcome of the meeting was positive. When he asked the group if anyone was “totally opposed” to the idea of bringing the festival to Vicksburg, no one raised their hand.

“I think the decision to pursue it came out of that meeting today,” Beauman said.

Vicksburg has 30 days to submit a bid to the SWAC for the festival. The city would have to include in its bid a cash guarantee to the SWAC of between $35,000 and $50,000, but Beauman was hoping to reduce the city’s portion of that amount by calling on the casinos to contribute.

“I think the casinos are important just in the realm of, number one, that they have been involved the last 10 years in anything community-oriented,” Beauman said.

Whatever amount the city eventually puts in would come from its advertising budget, Beauman said. The city doesn’t have to pay any fee simply to bid on the festival, only if its bid is accepted.

“That’s something (the guarantee) that hopefully won’t have to come from one source … That’s the easiest part of the thing is the cash guarantee,” Beauman said. “Volunteers, setting up the awards, that’s the hard part.”

Other organizations would help with logistical support, such as providing volunteers and hotel rooms for SWAC officials. The local organizations would benefit, in turn, from souvenir and concession sales and increased business the week of the festival.

The Vicksburg Baseball Association, for example, would keep all of the money generated from concession sales at Bazinsky Field.

“We have a 30-member board, and we’d have to vote on it,” VBA president Wayland Hill said. “But the city has always supported the Vicksburg Baseball Association, with the use of fields and such, and we’ll definitely support the city.”

More than 700 athletes participate in the various SWAC spring tournaments, and Vicksburg’s centralized location was a major selling point for the city.

Six of the 10 schools in the SWAC are within a three-hour drive from Vicksburg, and two Texas schools Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern are closer to Vicksburg than to Birmingham, Ala., the other city bidding for the festival.

Alcorn State athletic director Robert Raines, whose school would provide some organizational support for the festival, said the majority of the SWAC schools were in favor of holding the spring tournaments in Vicksburg.

All of the spring sports are “non-revenue” sports that make little or no profit. That makes a shorter trip and a smaller travel budget more appealing to the conference’s athletic directors. The final decision rests with the SWAC office, however.

“We feel like it stacks up extremely well, because Vicksburg is the geographic center of the conference and we feel Vicksburg has a lot to offer,” Raines said. “We have an outstanding contingency of support from the schools in this geographic area.”

For the last two years the festival was in Shreveport, and the larger city spread the events out and created a transportation nightmare for schools and athletes, Raines said.

If the games come to Vicksburg, three of the tournaments baseball, softball and tennis would be centralized at Halls Ferry Park and Bazinsky Field.

The SWAC track meet would be at Vicksburg High, while the golf tournament would be at Clear Creek golf course in Bovina under the current proposal.

Raines felt Vicksburg had the facilities to host the tournaments, and said the biggest obstacle facing the city was the type of financial package it could offer the SWAC.

“I think Birmingham has come up with pretty substantial amounts of money, but we as schools feel that shouldn’t be the only consideration,” Raines said. “If Vicksburg puts up $50,000, and Birmingham puts up $100,000, then money sways the decision. We hope it’s not just a financial decision.”

Neither did Beauman.

“When you’re talking about 700 athletes, that’s a big event for any city,” Beauman said. “And when they want to come here, that makes it even better.”