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Adam Gloeckner (left) and Caleb Diller warm up for a match at the Waco Regional Tennis Center. The facility could potentially be used for events organized by the newly-formed Greater Waco Sports Commission.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

A group of nine Waco community leaders has formed a new nonprofit organization with the hopes of making the city the preferred destination for sports in Texas.

The Greater Waco Sports Commission has a goal of identifying and attracting new sporting events to the city, while seeking to enhance the already existing events. Though the GWSC is still in its startup phase, its board of directors is pleased with the progress that has already been made.

“I made the comment to someone recently that it’s harder to start a nonprofit than it is to start a business,” said local businessman Rick Tullis, the chairman of the GWSC board. “Though it was surprisingly challenging in some ways, it’s been going well. I think the real momentum will pick up once we get an executive director hired.

“It’s just like in business: That thing that needs to get done will get done when you have someone in place. Same thing here.”

The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce has a two-person staff designed to oversee sports and special events. Tullis said that the GWSC would not compete with the chamber, but rather collaborate with them and provide additional direction. In fact, the chamber has already offered desk space to the new GWSC executive director once that person is hired, Tullis said.

One of the GWSC board members is Steve “Snuffy” Smith, a former director of sports and special events for the chamber. Smith was instrumental in creating and attracting several events, including the Starburst Junior Golf Tournament.

“The chamber does a great job, especially in running the 13 events they run over the year,” Tullis said. “But they may end up getting a call about someone wanting to start an event or bring an event to Waco, and not have the time to pursue that. Steve talked about that. He used to get those calls and he’d try to point people in the right direction, but he felt bad that he wasn’t able to do more. That’s where the commission comes in.”

A task force vetted the idea of a Waco-based sports commission for a year before moving forward in late 2014. Tullis presented a proposal to the city at a spring council meeting, and the nine-member board of directors was formed March 26.

“It’s not a completely original idea. A lot of cities have sports commissions,” Tullis said. “For me, the light bulb went off as I was working as co-chair of TriWaco. Seeing the downtown development, the economic growth, the improvement in quality of life, it got me thinking that it would be great to figure out a way to bring more events and people to Waco.”

Tullis said the GWSC has several primary goals. It wants to work with existing local athletic venues, like the Heart O’Texas Coliseum, the Waco Regional Tennis Center and Riverbend Park, among others, to strategically attract new events to the city. The commission also wants to create a detailed inventory of all the local sports facilities and parks, and build a database of volunteers who would assist with events.

Finally, the commission wants to create a system to measure the impact of the sporting events on the city’s economy.

What kind of events would the commission target? The possibilities are limitless, Tullis said.

“One of the things we learned was not necessarily intuitive,” he said. “We had Don Shoemaker with the national association of sports commissions consult with us. One of the things he said was that in terms of economic development, the biggest events are 12-year-old girls’ sports. Statistically, they bring the largest contingent of people and they spend the most money. Everything from cheerleading to tumbling to softball to volleyball.

“So I guess we need more 12-year-old girl sports. I say that kind of tongue in cheek, because we don’t want to stop there.”

Tullis said that the commission may target events that are “out of the box,” everything from mountain bike competitions in Cameron Park to additional drag boat races on the river.

“When we were meeting as a task force, the conversation would sometimes go, ‘We used to have this, whatever happened to this?’ And someone would say, ‘Round Rock has that now,’” Tullis said. “Well, Round Rock has a sports commission that was actively seeking out these events. We were getting our pocket picked, we were not in the game. Now we can play both offense and defense.”

For the time being, the GWSC board is focused on securing funding and finding a candidate to fill its executive director position. The board will accept resumes through the end of July, and plans to make a hiring decision this fall. Resumes and inquiries can be sent to wacosports@gmail.com.

“The great thing is that we’re at the apex of collaboration,” Tullis said. “Well, maybe not the apex, because hopefully it’ll get even better. But we’ve got all these great venues and great organizations, and with a director in place, we expect great results.

“It’s all additive. We’re not trying to take away from anything, but add more to it.”

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