Convention center draws 65 teams for sports tournament

·2 min read

May 29—Sam Swinford, founder and director of event operations for AthElite Sports Management of Marion, Illinois, stood in the Owensboro Convention Center on Saturday morning, watching four basketball games at the same time.

His AthElite Memorial Day Challenge, the first basketball tournament on the center's new sports floor, was more successful than he hoped.

"It's going well," Swinford said. "We sold out."

He had hoped for 45 teams.

Instead, AthElite registered 65 teams from eight states.

They came from as far away as Wichita, Kansas, and Cleveland, Ohio.

"There's a lot of interest," Swinford said. "We weren't sure what to expect. Most teams are used to playing on wood, but this is a nice surface."

The convention center has 36,000 square feet of concrete-gray tile, made from an industrial plastic compound, that goes on top of the concrete floor for sporting events.

Last year, the city, county and Owensboro Health put up $600,000 for the makeover to make the expo halls more accessible to indoor sports.

Swinford said 120 games were scheduled for Saturday and today.

He said he expects to bring the tournament back next year and make it an annual Memorial Day weekend event.

Josh Patton, coach of Evansville Blackhearts, was talking with his team in one corner of the expo halls.

"It's going pretty good," he said. "It's well organized. There's good competition."

Patton said, "Some of the players couldn't dribble on this floor, but they're learning. It's good for them."

He said, "We want to play the best of the best. That's how you improve. And there are a lot of good teams here."

Patton said, "If the tournament is back next year, we'll be back — 100%. It's nice that it's a short drive."

The teams came from Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio, Kansas and Arkansas.

Chris Gendek, destination development & sports management director for the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said earlier that this might be the largest basketball tournament ever in Owensboro.

Gendek said the average team has 10 players, meaning at least 650 players — boys and girls — between third grade and 17 years old.

Many will be accompanied by their parents, he said, making for a large number of people in town for the Memorial Day weekend.

Gendek said, "We are starting to see some real momentum pick up with indoor sports and the impact these tournaments have on our community. The future looks bright, and we are continually building on the early success we have already created."

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301,