Johnston County has its share of sports-related events going on at any moment, particularly on the weekends when recreational sports kick into high gear.
But as anywhere else, there’s room for more and bringing more regional, statewide or national competitions – and the dollars associated with those events – to Johnston County and that’s exactly the goal of the newly formed Johnston County Sports Council.
The group was established last year by the Johnston County Tourism Authority and is already involved with several projects including the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trial, four new bike routes and several fall tournaments.
Jim Godfrey, who served in a previous role in Lenior County is the chairman of the group, which includes Tony Braswell (Johnston County Board of Commissioners), Matt Smith (Benson Parks and Recreation Department), Jonathan Allen (Clayton Parks and Recreation Department), Tim Narron (Kenly Parks and Recreation Department), Joe Carter (Selma Parks and Recreation Department), Gary Johnson (Smithfield Parks and Recreation Department), Charlie Metz (Johnston United Soccer Association), Ed Perfetto (McGees Crossroads Athletic Association), Philip Daniels (News & Observer), Rick Bartholomew (Princeton Little League), Mickey Bridgers (South Johnston High School Sports), Donna Bailey-Taylor (Johnston County Visitors Bureau), and serving as staff liaison, Amanda Astoske (Johnston County Visitors Bureau). The committee meets the third week of each even numbered month for the purpose of any business.
“We’ve designed the sports council to try to further cooperation between the area recreation departments and other sports groups,” Godfrey said. “The cooperation level is something we’ve seen grow and grow and expect it to do so even more. You can host a big tournament or event when you bring together communities like Smithfield, Benson and Cleveland, for example.”
Among the main factors that could help expand regional sports events in Johnston County is the rapidly expanding amount of facilities in the area.
“The first thing you think of is the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center,” Godfrey said. “There are plenty more as well, like the park in Clayton with the bocce facilities. It’s one of the few in the state and has brought big statewide competitions here.”
Godfrey hopes the area is open to new ideas, instead of the typical weekend stick and ball tournaments.
“A perfect example is Statesville, which built a horseshoe throwing facility because of local and regional interest,” Godfrey said. “Now they’ve landed a national championship horseshoe competition.”
Although many tourism promoters are quick to point to economic impact dollar figures, Godfrey believes that that exact impact is always hard to pin down.
“I’m one who believes it’s very difficult to ascertain an exact economic impact, unless you can quantify every part of every visitor’s trip here,” Godfrey said. “But when you’re talking about a two- or three-day event, there’s going to be a big impact. That could be hotels, meals, extra family activities, you name it.”
A $25,000 capital improvement projects account was established for helping area communities make basic upgrades at their facilities.
If there’s one thing Godfrey would like to see most in the county, it’s “a huge softball and baseball complex.”
A representative of the Council also attended the TEAMS Conference in Detroit earlier this fall.
“There are a tremendous amount of events out there to be had,” Godfrey said. “And I think our county is going to do a good job of going after them. We have first class facilities and are adding more of those. We’re in an area where we can earn the right to host events, then keep them coming back because of the job we will do once they’re here.”