Business likes economic contributions from visiting softball and baseball teams

Every weekend in Rockmart, popup canopies go up around the chain link fences surrounding baseball and softball diamonds at the Nathan Dean Recreation Center, usually early in the morning.

Spectators – mostly parents, grandparents or brothers and sisters of players – begin to hear a familiar clink and begin to cheer around 9 a.m., and that last for most of the day.

Weather permitting, of course. Baseball and softball is dependant on hoping that showers and thunderstorms stay at bay during this time of the year, which provides mixed results. Despite a stray shower here and there this past weekend in Rockmart, the guests enjoying the fields in town were mainly lucky.

If not for the efforts of the Rockmart Recreation Department staff, the tournament might have been looking for other fields to utilize, since Director Jeff Hulsey said they were out at 4 a.m. before youth and their parents arrived to play ball.

“We take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “All these people here now, they’re from Spalding County, Columbus, LaGrange. All over the state.”

The routine is about the same throughout the week as well, with work to repair fields from the tournaments to be completed after everyone packs up and leaves again, followed then by the usual maintenance. Cutting the grass to the right level is a constant chore for the recreation staff. So is making sure that fences are maintained, as well as other safety measures.

It easily becomes a six-day workweek for those on the staff, but Hulsey said everyone gets to have time off like normal and rotate their time.

“They give it everything they’ve got,” he said. “That is something no one ever sees. They just see the kids playing. But they don’t see the guys at 4 a.m. with the lights on pushing water and things like that.”

The tournaments coming just about every weekend from early spring through late fall before the Thanksgiving holidays do provide a lot of good. The city receives revenue from the rentals of the ball fields at the Nathan Dean Recreation Center.

Plus, with the location right off Highway 278 and the maintenance the Recreation department staff undertake on the fields, Hulsey said those playing want to keep coming back.

“They tell the tournament directors ‘hey, we want to go to Rockmart’,” he said. “The fields are groomed… we go the extra mile to get these tournaments to come back.”

That provides a lot of economic incentive as well. Hulsey said local businesses along the highway and in downtown as well have enjoyed growth due to the increasing number of people in Rockmart on the weekends.

He estimates that families visiting for tournaments bring an additional $70,000 in business overall to Polk County, and more specifically in Rockmart, when they visit. It ultimately means greater staffing needs at restaurants and stores on the weekend, and a boost to the economy overall.

“The local businesses are ecstatic about it. I was a Chick-fil-A this morning (Saturday) and it doubles their Saturday business,” Hulsey said. “So that is great.”

Based off of Hulsey’s estimates alone, that means an additional $2.3 million alone going into the local economy just from visitors coming to play baseball and softball at Rockmart fields.

That’s just on the eastern side of the county. Cedartown has also been hosting tournaments as well during select months of the year, drawing in tourism as well. Aragon has also sought to look at renting out their ball fields too to those who want to use them on the weekends when not rented out by local teams.

All of this is part of an investment municipalities have made in past years as the growth of sports tourism for youth increases.

The Rockmart field expansion at the Nathan Dean Recreation Center might seem like a drop in the bucket compared to what is being generated nationally.

Youth sports in the United States continues to grow, with the industry seeing spending of $9 billion by parents in the country on travel teams, visiting other cities to play and in businesses related.

So hosting tournaments locally makes really sense when it comes to the dollars that are coming to Polk County in the process.