Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director David Patterson doesn’t the scary arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted Vigo County sports tourism a lot in 2020 and a little in 2021.
But now, even though strains of the virus still exist, tourism is pretty much back to normal here, Patterson said.
In terms of live sporting events, cross country remains king when it comes to bringing large groups of out-of-towners to Vigo County, although the LaVern Gibson Championship Course hasn’t hosted the NCAA Division I national championships since 2016. That was the last of the 12 times the nationals have taken place here — so far.
There is hope for the NCAA to award future DI nationals bids to Terre Haute, but that can’t happen until beyond 2025 because dates and sites elsewhere in the country have been announced for the next four years, including 2022.
But that doesn’t mean the complex isn’t drawing spectators and making money. Not at all.
This year, the Valley Cross Kickoff for high school runners opened the season there Aug. 13. Patterson said that meet drew 1,700 runners, by far the most it’s ever attracted.
Another high school meet, the Hometown Savings Bank State Preview on Sept. 4, consisted of some of the top high school runners in the state.
The John McNichols Invitational for college athletes invaded the popular course Sept. 17. Coming up as the weather gets colder are the Vigo County middle school championships Sept. 28, the XC Town Twilight College Division meets Sept. 30, the Indiana middle school state championships on the morning of Oct. 1, the Nike XC Town Twilight meet in the evening of Oct. 1, the IHSAA sectional Oct. 8, the Missouri Valley Conference championships (including ISU) Oct. 28, the huge IHSAA state finals Oct. 29 (for the 19th straight year here), the NCAA Division I Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 11 and the Nike Cross Regional Midwest Championships on Nov. 13.
Referring to Oct. 1 when runners from two separate meets will trample on the Gibson grass, Patterson emphasized: “That’s the busiest day we’ll have all year.”
There’s also a chance, although not official, that the Historically Black College and Universities will allow the Gibson course to be the site of its inaugural national championships. But Patterson is awaiting confirmation for that, so don’t mark it on your calendars yet.
Something to look forward to in the distant future are the NCAA Division III national championships, hosted by Rose-Hulman, on Nov. 23, 2024.
Other events, locations
Some other events and locations mentioned by Patterson as being frequented by a substantial number of tourists:
• Terre Haute Torpedoes swimming meets at the Vigo County Aquatic Center. This year, the Conference Indiana high school meet (January) and IHSAA girls sectional (February) also took place at the Aquatic Center.
• Indiana USA Gymnastics compulsory state championships (March), hosted by Wabash Valley Gymnastics and Tumbling, kept the Strive 365 indoor sports complex crowded.
• Dog agility events at Strive 365.
• The annual Midwest Classic tournament (April), sponsored by the Vigo County Youth Soccer Association, at the Springhill Soccer Complex.
• Various bicycle races — including the Gravel Race and the DINO Spring Tune Up (both in April), the Pump Track Series (May, June and July) and the Thompson Thrift Short Track Series (May, June and July) — kept Griffin Bike Park workers busy in southern Vigo County.
• Various automobile races at the Terre Haute Action Track and the Wabash Valley Dragway through the summer and fall.
• The Terre Haute Rex wooden-bat baseball team for college players, which competes in the Prospect League, plays its home games at Indiana State University’s Bob Warn Stadium.
• Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games (June) at ISU, with swimming at the Rose-Hulman Sports and Recreation Center. “[Participation was down a little bit because of lingering concerns about COVID,” Patterson said.
• The 45th Air Race Classic (ARC) had 115 female pilots starting in Lakeland, Florida, and flying a course that concluded at Terre Haute Regional Airport, altogether roughly 2,550 statute miles. Nearly everyone involved attended a banquet at the then-new Convention Center and stayed that night in Terre Haute-area hotels. This event usually switches locations from year to year, giving competitors different parts of the country to see, but Patterson sees no reason why the ARC group wouldn’t want to return to Terre Haute someday.
• The Wabash Valley Football Coaches Association’s 18th annual All-Star Game (June) was played at Memorial Stadium. A banquet honoring the players and coaches — representing dozens of Indiana and Illinois high schools — took place at the Convention Center the night before the game.
• The annual RAIN (Ride Across INdiana) for long-distance cyclists started in Terre Haute and ended 159 miles later in Richmond (July). “They come the night before [the ride]spend the night here and all the restaurants and hotels are packed,” Patterson pointed out.
• The Valley Shootout youth basketball tournament (August) at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center.