Salem is a city nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge with a population of about 25,000. Yet, the city hosts sporting events that can draw thousands, filling the almost 1,000 hotel rooms in the city proper and pushing out into the wider community.
The secret to its success is simple, says Carey Harveycutter, director of tourism and tournament director of NCAA-hosted events for the city of Salem. “It’s the people. It’s the people that we have been able to surround ourselves with that make people happier when they leave.”
Harveycutter and John P. Shaner, director of Salem’s Parks & Recreation Department, have been a team in Salem for well over 20 years. They were Connect Sports Game Changers in 2017.
“We’ve established what works for us and what doesn’t,” Shaner says. “It’s continuing to maintain the good we have.”
What works is hosting 78 tournament events in 2017 that included everything from college conference championships to weekend championships to state, regional and national championships.
Last year, Salem hosted 80 tournament events and the city is on track to host 84 in 2019.
“It’s the whole gamut,” Shaner says. “It’s youth baseball, girl’s fast-pitch softball, women’s basketball.”
The U.S. Olympic Softball Team just awarded Salem a tour stop for 2020, ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan. Other major events in 2020 will be NSA Girl’s Class A 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U,1 8UFast-Pitch World Series in July. Salem will also host cross-country, basketball, indoor track, baseball, wrestling and football championships next year.
In July, the city hosted the USA Softball 16U Girl’s Fast Pitch Class A National Championship. “We want to continue to be strong in USA Softball and go after the World Series,” Shaner says. “It’s gotten very competitive. The senior softball world has gotten very strong, too, and we’re in that market.”
Another market the men would like to bring to Salem is pickleball.
“We just put six beautiful new courts in,” Shaner says. “That’s a nontraditional sport to make us more well-rounded. We want to dip a toe into that.”
When Shaner first came to Salem about 20 years ago, he came from the Division I world as Harveycutter was just starting to get into hosting events.
“We genuinely enjoy hosting people,” Harveycutter says. “We’ve hosted 90 national championships, but it’s critically important that those 450 teams that have not left as champions have been treated well and want to come back someday.”
The city’s sporting facilities aren’t just for tournaments, Shaner points out.
“Monday through Friday, some of the best facilities out there are used by our kids,” he says. “Then on the weekends, we use them to benefit the community through the money that comes in from gas tax, retailers, the hotel tax.”
He hopes that in a couple of years the city will be able to renovate some facilities to extend their longevity.
That is a benefit to the entire community, since Salem proper only has 960 hotel rooms, Harveycutter says. “We’re in Roanoke County, and we have to use hotel rooms in Roanoke County and Botetourt County to make it work. We all have to work together.”