WESLEY CHAPEL — For three days this week, Wesley Chapel reigned supreme as the epicenter for youth lacrosse in the United States.
Nearly 90 teams from 20 states and two Canadian provinces converged on Wesley Chapel District Park and Wesley Chapel High, where they competed for national titles in the annual Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions.
For the teams, it was three days of competitive fun. For Pasco County, the tournament represented tourism dollars as coaches, players and families traveled to the area, booked hotel rooms, shopped in stores and ate in restaurants.
The tournament is worth an estimated $3.5 million in economic impact to Pasco, with most of the county’s hotel rooms booked solid for the event, said Ed Caum, public communications manager for the county.
“I was really amazed at the number of minivans with plates from way up north,” said Caum, who spent each day at the tournament, which began Sunday and wrapped up Tuesday.
The teams, which competed in five divisions, came from as far away as New York, Minnesota, New Jersey, Delaware, Wisconsin, Colorado and Massachusetts. The group that traveled the farthest hailed from Vancouver, British Columbia, which is about 3,200 miles from Wesley Chapel.
Because there aren’t enough hotel rooms in the central and eastern part of the county to handle the influx of visitors that came with the lacrosse teams, some of the overflow drifted down to the New Tampa area. But even the western part of Pasco County benefited somewhat, with at least one team from New Jersey staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in the Holiday and Tarpon Springs area, Caum said.
The tournament schedule, with everything finished by mid-afternoon Tuesday, allowed the lacrosse players and their families to schedule in vacation time and celebrate the start of the new year.
Some planned to remain for additional nights in their Pasco County hotels while visiting such area tourist destinations as Busch Gardens, he said. Others will head to Orlando to visit Disney World, Universal Studios or other attractions.
Pasco County has hosted the lacrosse tournament since its inception in 2008 but risked losing it in 2012 when the IMG Academy in Bradenton made a competing offer. County tourism officials worked closely with tournament officials to negotiate a four-year extension.
The agreement nearly tripled the county’s cash sponsorship from $22,500 to $65,000. The county made other commitments: to improve the wireless connectivity on the fields so the games can be streamed on the Internet and to add more fields by 2014.
Additional fields couldn’t come soon enough, judging by the use during the tournament, Caum said.
“We need to expand that park,” he said. “We’re at capacity in that place right now.”