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High-profile sports events call Q-C home

Imagine the PGA Tour's Quad City Classic running the same weekend as the Bix 7.

At one time, the bi-state region's biggest summer sports events were actually scheduled to go off simultaneously this summer.

Now, toss into that mad mix the Mid-Continent Conference's Men's and Women's Basketball tournaments running inside at The Mark of the Quad Cities while the revived Quad Cities Marathon runs outside.

Then, add Western Illinois University's 20-team National Invitational Championships at the Rock Island Jaycees Softball Complex.

Shake well, Quad-Cities, before bracing for a final, fatal ingredient to insanity -- the biggest weekend of this spring's 40,000-strong Women's International Bowling Congress Tournament on local lanes.

``It'd be pretty horrendous,'' WIU softball coach Kathy Veroni said after concocting the crazy scenario calling for all seven events on the same weekend. ``You'd be looking for hotel rooms in Wisconsin.''

Unimaginable, you say? Not since the Quad City Sports Commission came on the local landscape a few years ago to help attract to the area athletic events like the Mid-Con, the NIC and WIBC.

But the unimaginable is also impossible with the 30-person, nonprofit, volunteer organization working behind the scenes to ensure things run smoothly as sports plays a multi-million dollar economic impact on the game of life in the Quad-Cities.

``It's brought us together,'' Q-C marathon director Joe Moreno said.

But the comprehensive calendaring of events which helped avert this summer's Q-C Classic/Bix 7 conflict is only part of the teamwork Mr. Moreno's talking about.

The group's internal networking between event directors and facility coordinators has turned a community normally divided by a river into a united sports presence.

It all started because the area finished second to Indianapolis four years ago in the bidding to host the Big Ten Conference's Women's Basketball Tourney.

Wondering what went wrong, questions were asked by The Mark's executive director, Steve Hyman, and Bruce Riley McDaniel, the late head of the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Among the decisive answers was Indy had a sports commission working behind the scenes, ensuring the event would be a success.

That led the Quad-Cities to form its own team of experts who could deliver everything from playing sites to hotel rooms to volunteers.

Two springs ago, ``It got too big for people with 40-hour-a-week jobs to handle on their own. And that's where I came in,'' said QCSC executive director Jonathan White, an administrative liaison between the area and the Mid-Con before the league's first tourney.

Last year, events White's group worked with accounted for $14.5 million in economic impact.

This year, the WIBC alone will account for an estimated $40 million while, expanded to include the league's women's teams, the Mid-Con will bring in just over $5 million.

Mr. White sifts through a monthly average of 10-to-12 different sports organizations expressing interest in calling the Quad-Cities home.

``Fifteen years ago, you'd roll out the red carpet and give an organization a couple of complimentary hotel rooms and maybe a nice suite for their director,'' he said.

``But now, it's so competitive, it's not unusual to see non-refundable bidding fees of anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, just to get your name in the hat. Some of them are obviously way out of our league.''

But a number are in the ballpark now with the QCSC around.

``We're just the vehicle to bring events in,'' White said. ``It helps that everybody's playing on the same team now.''

This dynamic has allowed the area to attract an event like this fall's Operation Bass National Championship Fishing Tourney.

The event will offer the largest prize in sport fishing history ($250,000 to the winner) with ESPN camera crews and major news agencies like USA Today and CNN/SI in town for three days of fishing on the Mississippi River.

``ESPN tapes it and shows it worldwide two weeks later. So that puts us on the map,'' Mr. White said. ``Anytime you can bring ESPN to town, you can't put a price tag on that exposure.''

Besides boosting tourism, Mr. White said such exposure helps attract other organizations interested in bringing events to the area. He's already turned down several other fishing tournaments this summer.

Other big catches include the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation tournaments and the American Motorcycle Association's Mississippi Grand National.

Mr. White's also working lines for U.S. wrestling events with Moline High School coach Todd Rosenthal and national open water swimming events with Augie coach Dave Thomas.

That's besides the QCSC acting as a clearinghouse for local information to soccer, softball and baseball events as well as figure skating events the Quad-Cities Figure Skating Club is actively pursuing.

``Large sports events,'' said Ms. Veroni, ``are just like hosting a big convention.''

In the Quad-Cities, it's a whole new lucrative ballgame with a sports commission now around.

-- By Steve Tappa (February 9, 1998)

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