Any glimmer of hope that Rome would get to welcome some of the top collegiate tennis players and their fans to town this year was put to rest on Tuesday.
The Atlantic Coast Conference officially announced it was canceling all spring sports for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year, including the 2020 ACC Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.
The decision was made to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19, according to a statement on the ACC’s website.
Ann Hortman, director of the Rome Sports Commission, said she had been in contact with conference representatives on Tuesday after the announcement and had begun taking steps to make sure all preparations for this year’s tournaments were canceled.
“We’re disappointed but we understand it’s the best decision in the interest of the student-athletes, which is what our focus is on in the first place,” Hortman said. “They (the ACC) are as disappointed as we are about this decision. The good news is we will be hosting them in 2021.”
Rome and the tennis center are part of a two-year cycle to host the ACC championships, with this year being the first year. This year’s championships were scheduled for April 15-19, while next year’s are set for April 21-25, 2021.
“Our top priority remains the health and safety of our student-athletes as well as our fans, communities and the overall well-being of others during these uncharted times,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in Tuesday’s statement. “We are particularly disappointed for our student-athletes and will continue to work with our membership to assess what is appropriate in the future.”
What remains to be seen is if the cancellation of this year’s tennis tournaments will lead to an extension or rollover of the two-year agreement to allow Rome and RTC to host the event in 2022 without further bids needing to be made.
“That is a difficult question to answer, but I would hope so,” Hortman said. “We have not had any conversations about that yet. I think everyone is trying to navigate the current situation as best as they can right now. But we are optimistic.”
The Rome Tennis Center hosted the ACC tennis championships in 2017. The conference selected the then-brand new facility as the site of the tournaments after deciding to move them out of North Carolina in response to the state’s controversial “bathroom law.”
More than 1,800 fans attended the event, setting a new record and helping bring in more than $550,000 in local economic impact over the five days, according to Hortman.
While there is no firm estimate of what this year’s tournaments might have brought in, the five-day event would have seen 15 women’s teams and 13 men’s teams staying in local hotels and eating in restaurants.
Hortman said probably the toughest thing she did Tuesday was release the blocks of local hotel rooms that were reserved for the teams. She said all volunteers who have signed up to help with this year’s tournaments will be contacted.
A total of 25 people had volunteered so far, and Hortman said she hopes they will sign up again when the tournaments return next year.
“The good news is we have it in 2021 and will work to make it bigger and better than ever before,” she said.