SPRING HILL — Late winter and early spring are typically prime months for youth soccer tournaments in Central Florida. Such events are winners for host communities because they bring in an influx of hundreds of athletes and their families, who stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and shop in local stores.
Throughout the rest of February, Hernando County will be enjoying the perks of a soccer tournament trifecta that organizers say will bring more than 90 girls teams to the Anderson Snow Park soccer complex.
George Angeliadis, president of the First Hernando Youth Soccer League, which is acting as host, said the tournaments mark the first time in about four years that Hernando has hosted Florida Youth Soccer Association region cup events.
In addition to this weekend's FYSA Region C under-13 girls competitive soccer tournament, the complex will play host to the Florida Coast Futbol Club's girls "Sunshine Cup" recreational soccer semifinals Feb. 16 and 17 as well as the finals on Feb. 23.
"We're excited about it," Angeliadis said. "A lot of money and work has gone into getting the fields ready. We want to make a good impression on the teams that are going to be playing."
Angeliadis said his organization spent nearly $90,000 recently to re-sod the complex's six soccer fields. In addition, the league put $20,000 into improvements to the concession stand and other structures.
The success of attracting such high-profile state tournaments is the result of a concerted effort begun two years ago by a sports marketing coalition made up of representatives from the county Parks and Recreation Department, the Hernando Tourism Development Council, the Brooksville Parks and Recreation Department and members from several local youth sports groups.
Brooksville Parks and Recreation Director Mike Walker said that Hernando County is rapidly gaining a reputation as a youth sports destination, despite government budget-slashing that a couple of years ago almost closed some parks.
"Tournament directors say they like our facilities and that they're easy to travel to," Walker said. "I think our chances of attracting more statewide baseball, softball and soccer tournaments is going to grow as time goes along."
Attracting out-of-town athletes and their families is the name of the game, said Ruby Turner, marketing director for the Tourism Development Council.
"They generate a lot of hotel and restaurant business," Turner said. "And if it's a girls sporting event it's even better because the whole family usually comes along with them."
Angeliadis said that First Hernando Youth Soccer is in the process of bidding to hold other soccer tournaments later in the year and is set to sponsor its first 5k fundraiser run April 14.
"We've learned that it takes a lot of time, energy and money to make a facility competitive enough to attract big tournaments," Angeliadis said. "I don't see a reason why we can't host at least a couple of tournaments every year."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.