By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor
TAMPA, Fla. - When I first got this job at the end of May and learned I would be moving to Plant City and covering the sports scene there, I started scouring the web to find out what exactly that scene entailed.
From descriptions in my interview and with a little research, I saw many similarities between Plant City and the three small, hometown cities I covered in Northeast Georgia for my previous newspaper. It was obvious high school football was a big deal down here, as well as high school sports in general.
Prep sports is a natural beat for a community newspaper, but I also wanted to find out what else Plant City had to offer.
What I found then — and what I continue to see — is that Plant City is a major player as a host city for big events, and that’s impressive for a city of our size.
Take, for instance, the United Youth Football League national championship tournament going on this week at the Otis. M. Andrews Sports Complex. That event brought around 140 teams from around the country to compete, along with their family members and friends.
On top of bringing in a great and prestigious tournament, this
also means big money for the local economy here, with hotel stays,
gas purchases, entertainment and shopping.
With the International Softball Federation calling Plant City home, there are several big softball tournaments on the calendar that will take place at the impressive Plant City Stadium and Randy L. Larson Softball FourPlex, including the ISF men’s fast and slow pitch tournaments in January that will bring teams from across the nation.
The complex also will host the National Softball Association Winter World Series for men’s softball in February.
When it comes to hosting large baseball tournaments, Plant City has that covered, too. Five USSSA youth baseball tournaments will bring hundreds to our city in February and March.
Also during that time, the National Club Baseball and Softball Association will hold their college spring training here. More than 60 teams are expected during a four- to five-week timeframe this year. Participants will include baseball teams from Michigan State, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Kentucky and the University of Missouri, just to name a few.
It doesn’t stop there.
The Florida Suncoast Sports youth baseball tournament will be held here in March, along with an Amateur Athletic Union travel ball youth baseball tournament. The Florida Suncoast Sports President’s Cup soccer tournament also will call Plant City home in February.
So how why does Plant City attract so many statewide and national tournaments? It’s rather simple.
The facilities here are just top-notch, and that’s something that is notable in its own right considering the relatively small size of the Recreation and Parks Department. On top of great facilities, Plant City is blessed with a great location.
Plant City is close enough to the hustle and bustle of the major Tampa Bay market — but far enough away so teams can feel at home and comfortable while they are down here.
The economic impact that these events bring is significant. Even if teams end up staying in hotels outside of Plant City, they still are likely to fill their gas tanks and grab a few bites to eat while they’re here.
Plant City may be small compared to some other regional spots, but when it comes to sports, this town is setting a high standard.