Fifty-four youth teams will begin play at a baseball and softball tournament at 6 p.m. today in Seymour.
When those 650 or so athletes aren’t on the field or in the dugout for the fourth annual Thunder Classic, their parents will be busy feeding them and making sure they have a roof over their head.
That’s good news for local businesses, said Jason Kleber, who is the city’s new athletics director. That’s a position the city recently created with the idea of attracting more local and out-of-state athletics tournaments and events to the city’s park facilities.
Kleber said people visiting the city for tournaments are a captive audience, spending their money on food, drinks, fuel and hotel rooms.
From the first tournament games through the last, which start at 6 p.m. Sunday, the diamonds at Kasting, Kessler and Shields parks and Freeman Field Sports Complex will be in use nearly nonstop.
The softball portion of the classic will feature 34 teams, while the baseball part will have 20. Those teams will come from across central and southern Indiana, some from as far away as Terre Haute, Evansville and Rushville.
With an average of 12 players per team, that means about 650 athletes, plus parents, grandparents, siblings and even aunts and uncles in some cases — all with money to spend.
Arann Banks, director of the Jackson County Visitor Center, said the city and tournament organizers are generally pretty good about notifying the center when a large event is being conducted.
“Sometimes they forget, but we usually know anyway because of the calls,” she said.
People call the visitor center to ask about hotel rooms, places to eat and other activities in the area besides the event that brought them here, Banks said.
She said visitors want to know other things they can do while staying here, and that’s information center officials are more than willing to share.
“We will tell them about fish fries or barbecues or other things like that,” Banks said.
Center staff members also will talk about Starve Hollow State Recreation Area or the Jackson-Washington State Forest.
“We send them to our website or the chamber website,” Banks said.
The visitor center put together goody bags with information about local attractions for coaches with teams in the tournament, said Jane Hays, the visitor center’s public relations director.
Hays said she estimated last year’s tournament, which featured 60 teams, brought more than 3,000 people to the city and generated a little more than $300,000 in revenue for hotels and motels.
Angie Sanders, a front-desk associate at Holiday Inn Express, said summer is always a busy time for the hospitality industry, and the youth tournaments are a big part of that.
“We probably have three teams booked for this weekend,” she said.
All of the hotel’s queen-size rooms are full, along with king-size rooms and any of the rooms with two beds, Sanders said.
“Saturday, we’re sold out,” she said.
Even on the weekends when there are smaller tournaments, Holiday Inn Express will have three or four families with kids playing in the tournament staying there, she said.
Christina Gutierrez, general manager of Fairfield Inn in Seymour, said the hotel will be fairly full this weekend.
“We’ve had a busy week, period,” she said.
Gutierrez said big tournament weekends are noticeable.
“We get a lot of people coming through here,” she said.
And even if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and it rains some of time, it’s still good for business, Banks said.
“They will just go find something else to do for a while,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Kleber said this weekend’s tournament is not the first, but it’s one of the three or four larger ones conducted in the city each year.
“We’ll have another one in August,” he said, referring to the Back to School Bash, which has been in place for about seven years.
Kleber said one of the goals is to keep the fields busy every weekend.
“We only have one weekend open now,” he said.
A Memorial Day weekend tournament was organized by a private company, which rented the fields from the city, Kleber said. He said the tourney included 40 teams.
There also has been a 33-team tournament this year.