Liberty athletic facilities prep for multi-sport festival this weekend
Liberty University will showcase nearly $200 million worth of recent athletic facility upgrades to thousands of youth and adult participants — and thousands more spectators — for the 2017 Virginia Commonwealth Games’ Main Games Weekend starting Friday.
Dan Foutz, first-year president of Virginia Amateur Sports, which organizes the largest multi-sport festival in the state, said the new facilities have helped increase athlete registration since Liberty became the Games’ primary sponsor in October 2015.
“I’ve been to many different universities all over the country, including all of the Ivy League schools, and there are fantastic facilities at many of these schools, but none of them trump what’s happened here,” said Foutz, who has officiated NCAA Division I football games for the past 15 years. “They fit perfectly for what we do with the Commonwealth Games, which are modeled after the Olympics.”
Now in its second year of staging the 28th annual year-round event, Liberty, as well as other locations around Lynchburg, will host approximately half (nearly 30 of 60 overall sports) of the Commonwealth Games competitions this weekend. Main Games Weekend will kick off with a tailgate party on Friday, from 4-6 p.m. in the new Indoor Football Practice Facility. Athletes will then parade to the Vines Center, site of the 7 p.m. Opening Ceremonies, which will feature former Virginia Tech and NBA point guard Bimbo Coles as the Olympic speaker. Coles is a 1988 member of the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team and 2017 inductee into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. Cecili Weber, the newly crowned Miss Virginia, will also participate in the ceremonies, which will conclude with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. The ceremonies, as well as many of the Commonwealth Games competitions, are free for spectators.
Approximately 10,000 athletes are expected to compete in various sports throughout the year, with about a third of those represented at this weekend’s festivities. Liberty has already hosted an indoor triathlon at the LaHaye Recreation & Fitness Center in February, youth and adult ice hockey tournaments in March and April and a figure skating competition in June in the LaHaye Ice Center, a baton competition and judo/jiu-jitsu tournament in April in the LaHaye Multipurpose Center, as well as a 5K run on campus, a regional all-star baseball tournament at Liberty Baseball Stadium, and a wrestling tournament this past weekend. Seventy of the wrestlers had participated in last week’s Liberty Wrestling Camp, also held at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center.
Just as potential student-athletes are often awe-struck on official campus recruiting visits to Liberty, Foutz is banking on Commonwealth Games participants planning their return visits when they see the new facilities for the first time.
“The ‘wow factor’ has a lot to do with it,” Foutz said. “Liberty University has the wisdom and the vision to think forward, and this is what’s hot right now, and our athletes love it.”
Many participants in team sports, such as basketball, baseball, softball, and lacrosse, will stay in housing on Liberty’s East Campus and eat at the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall this weekend, contributing to the Olympic Village atmosphere.
“I think you’ll see that (environment) this weekend,” Foutz said. “If you look at the close proximity of the baseball and softball stadiums and the track facilities and basketball courts, it’s all right here, so it’s great.”
Basketball remains the Commonwealth Games’ No. 1 participation sport. As of late last week, 129 basketball teams had registered for this weekend’s tournament, already a significant increase from last year. Basketball will be played on 15 courts at the LaHaye Recreation & Fitness Center, the Vines Center and its adjacent Basketball Practice Facility, as well as at nearby Liberty Christian Academy.
More than 250 men’s lacrosse players (including participants in this week’s three-day Liberty Men’s Lacrosse Day Camp) have registered for a tournament on the Liberty Lacrosse Fields. That is one of several events scheduled for this weekend on East Campus, along with a 3D Archery tournament on a temporary range set up at the Liberty Equestrian Center; a beach volleyball tournament on Liberty’s two sets of four beach volleyball courts, a disc golf tournament on the two 20-hole East Campus courses, one near the Hydaway Outdoor Recreation Center; a paintball tournament at the Liberty Paintball Fields; a ski and snowboard competition at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre; a skateboard competition at the Liberty Mountain Skate Park; and a co-ed Ultimate tournament on the Liberty Mountain Intramural Complex.
Kaycee Tripp, the assistant director of recruiting & special events in Liberty’s Club Sports Department, has worked hand-in-hand with Virginia Amateur Sports Games Director Amanda Mangum and Liberty’s Athletics Events Coordinator Ernest Carter as well as the coordinators of the various competitions on campus. She will oversee 30-35 staff members assisting with game operations for 10 sports this weekend.
“The entire Club Sports department comes on board, working the Main Games Weekend,” Tripp said. “From our sports, there has definitely been an increase in participation and numbers from last year.”
Foutz said the event has also attracted many participants from outside Virginia who are eligible to compete in sports that aren’t offered in their states’ games, such as powerlifting, set for Saturday in the Football Operations Center weight room, and the popular pickleball to be played July 22 in the LaHaye Multipurpose Center.
Individual athletes can still register for many of the events taking place this weekend and in the coming months on the Commonwealth Games website. Upcoming competitions using Liberty’s facilities include an equestrian show and a youth tennis tournament at the Cook Tennis Center next weekend; the Deep Hollow Half Marathon and 5K Trail Run (the first race of the Liberty Mountain Trail Series) on Oct. 13; an indoor track & field competition at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex from Dec. 1-3; and an adult swimming competition, the very first event in the brand new Liberty Natatorium, on Dec. 9.
This weekend will serve as an excellent rehearsal for Liberty and the City of Lynchburg to team up with Virginia Amateur Sports and the Virginia Commonwealth Games to host the State Games of America for the first time from July 29-Aug. 4, 2019.