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Birmingham hosts NCAA Track and Field Championship, more to come

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Wisconsin junior Alicia Monson closes in on Weini Kelati of New Mexico before Monson won the women's 5,000 meters competition in the NCAA Division I track and field championship at Birmingham CrossPlex. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., Alabama Newscenter)
Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Alabama Newscenter

Beth Monson sounded a four-fingered whistle as her daughter Alicia Monson rounded the track Friday, March 8, night at the Birmingham CrossPlex. The mother of the Wisconsin junior said she tried to remain calm as Alicia competed in the women’s 5,000 meters.

But that didn’t last, especially as Alicia advanced through the lead pack on her way to overtaking the leader in the final lap to win the race.

“I was really cool coming into it, but, when she starts running, I swear I’m out there with her,” the Amery, Wisconsin, resident said. “Any parent is feeling the same way for their kid, whether they win or are just here participating. It’s all the same. It’s just a little sweeter when you win.”

For two days, parents, friends, teammates and fans rooted for athletes as they competed in the 2019 NCAA Division I indoor track and field championships. For the record, the Southeastern Conference dominated with the women of Arkansas and the men of Florida winning national titles, the second consecutive indoor national crown for the Gator men.

But even before the first shot was put, the first race was run or the first hurdle was cleared, metro Birmingham was already a huge winner.

“That’s a big event for us, obviously,” said David Galbaugh, the vice president of sports sales and marketing at the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve had a great relationship with the NCAA for a while now with their winter championships. We’ve also hosted this event before, but we hosted across all divisions – Divisions I, II and III.”

“It’s the premier athletes in terms of indoor track and field that come to your town over the span of this week, so it’s great for us, and it’s great for economic impact,” he continued. “It is significant.”

The estimated economic impact of the championships was nearly $5.4 million. It was livestreamed via ESPN3.

But the impact spanned a greater time than the presence of the top track and field teams in town last week.

“Whatever division we have that year…since it’s Division I this year…we’re going to see more Division I programs coming during the regular season to get acclimated to the track,” said Preston Kirk, the marketing and development manager at CrossPlex. “Next year when we have Division II national championships, we’re going to see a lot of Division II programs coming.”

That pattern was evident last year when CrossPlex was the site of the 2018 Division III national championships.

“It’s not the fact that they’re all coming during the week of the national championship,” Kirk said. “They’re all coming during the regular season because they now know where the national championship is each year.”

Taunita Stephenson, the director of Birmingham CrossPlex, chimed in.

“As we’re having meets leading up to this, then those teams will say, ‘Hey, that’s a good meet for us to hop in because the national championship will be there,’” she said.

Kirk said there is a trickledown effect that goes all the way into high school and club events.

“They want to come and compete where the national championship is,” he said. “When we have a Division I national championship that year, people want to come and compete. No matter if you’re in college, high school or club. They want to come compete where the national championship is that year.”

Faye Oates is commissioner of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office of sports and entertainment. She said last week’s championships demonstrate what the city of Birmingham can do with the right support.

That support, she said, comes from the corporate community, government and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It is truly a partnership,” she said. “That’s what this D I national championship is. Everybody’s involved to make it happen. As we build this resume, it allows us to go out and recruit more events, and we can show we’ve done lots and lots of comprehensive events.”

Oates said Birmingham has only scratched the surface of its potential to host sports events.

“It’s a teeny, teeny tiny scratch,” she said. “We’ve got a long way to go and I think a lot of that is in our own head. The World Games is a great example. When that was talked about, it was said, ‘Birmingham can’t do that.’”

“Here we are two years out,” Oates continued, pointing toward the 2021 World Games coming to Birmingham. “So, it’s a teeny, teeny tiny scratch, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.