Busy weekends bring big bucks to city of Hays, businesses
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
For decades, Fort Hays State University has made a big economic impact on the city of Hays by hosting a variety of high school events throughout the year.
University athletic events the past two weekends not only brought added revenue to the city of Hays but also helped FHSU athletes compete in postseason action at their home facilities.
After hosting the MIAA outdoor track meet May 3 to 5, FHSU also earned the right to host a Central Region softball tournament at Tiger Stadium on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Hundreds of athletes from 14 fellow MIAA schools spent several days in Hays the first weekend of the month.
"That was a significant economic impact," FHSU Athletic Director Curtis Hammeke said of the track meet. "Fifteen teams, 50, 60 athletes each. That's a lot of participants."
And a lot of hotel rooms.
Hays has 1,200 hotel rooms, but on extremely busy weekends, it has to direct travelers to neighboring towns such as Ellis, WaKeeney and Russell, said Jana Jordan of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"That was a very big weekend (for Hays)," Jordan said of the first weekend of May.
"Then last weekend, with the Komen (race for the cure) run, and Mother's Day and Hays High's graduation," she added, "I was happy we were able to get the (softball) teams in hotel rooms."
While the university had been making plans for the MIAA track meet for several months, FHSU learned in short time it would be the site for a regional tourney for softball.
"It's no small task to be the No. 1 team in the region and to get to host something," Hammeke said. "It's hard to come by, so you appreciate it when it happens."
Fans showed their appreciation of long-awaited spring weather -- and anticipated competitive matchups.
Even with a multitude of end-of-the-school-year activities scheduled, Tiger Stadium was packed, especially for Friday's first-round matchup between FHSU and Emporia State University.
Central Oklahoma University eventually won the tournament with a win over FHSU in the title game, ending the Tigers' impressive run this spring.
Nonetheless, Hammeke said, "it was a great experience for the kids, being able to compete in front of a home crowd, a good way to showcase their team ... and although they didn't win the regional title, (the celebration of) a great season."
The official attendance from the gate at Friday's game was 424, although with teams and work crews that didn't pay at the gate, that number probably was closer to 500.
"It might as well have been 10,000," Hammeke said of Friday's spirited crowd that had fans from all four teams watching the FHSU-Emporia State game. "When you have it packed in a small area like that, that's a lot of people. When you're in Gross Coliseum, that's nothing; it's all relative to the size of the facility. But when you have people standing and looking around corners, that makes a neat atmosphere."
Hays resident Don Bickle agreed. Bickle isn't just a big fan of Tiger athletics. He also is one of its biggest supporters as a donor with his name gracing the Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex and the new indoor training facility at FHSU scheduled for completion in early summer.
Besides getting to see some good softball games, Bickle said the past two weekends are just another example of Fort Hays' economic impact to the city of Hays.
"I don't believe very many people in Hays realize how many dollars Fort Hays brings into the community," he said. "You couldn't hardly get a room or get into a good restaurant last weekend."
Expect the same this coming weekend. FHSU's 2013 graduation ceremonies are Friday and Saturday.
"We had a lot of folks in town the past couple weekends," Jordan said, "and it'll be the same this weekend, which is good, good, good."