"We are again excited to be able to serve as the host institution for the NAIA national track and field championships. It is a huge undertaking, with over 1,500 student-athletes and coaches coming to our city," said Dennis Janzen, FPU athletic director. "Once again, the city of Fresno, FPU and the local track and field community have organized to make this event one to remember."
Last yearâ€™s tournament, also at FPU, was expected to generate nearly $1 million in hotel stays, meal purchases, transportation fees and other retail sales. In one area, at least, that estimate proved low. "Particularly in hotel room nights," said Kelly Carr, manager of Fresno Sports Council/SMG, a sponsor of the event. "We estimated 2,500 hotel room nights, and they came in closer to 4,000."
The outdoor track and field championshipsâ€™ 52 events draw the largest participation of any NAIA national competition. The NAIAâ€™s 300 member institutions are committed to respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship through the Champions of Character program. FPU is one of the program centers.
In addition to great athletics, visitors truly enjoyed a taste of Fresno. "We went through 5,100 boxes of raisins last year. A lot of the kids hadnâ€™t even tried raisins," said Carr, who hands out free samples of raisins, along with maps and information on dining and other attractions, at hospitality booths at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and the FPU track. (This year Carr will have 17 cases of raisins donated by Sun-Maid at his disposal.)
More than the region's signature fruit drew praise. "People felt welcomed in the community. The people of Fresno were very accommodating," Carr said. Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parts also drew praise. "They really enjoyed the outdoor amenities," he said.
Support such as Sun-Maid's has increased for the 2007 championships. The Fresno Convention & Visitors Bureau and local hotels are more active. "We're getting more community involvement," Carr said.
Carr hopes the sports councilâ€"a non-profit organization managed by SMG and directed by a board of city representatives and private citizensâ€"will have more chances to work with NAIA. "We have loved having the NAIA here. They are one of our best clients and we look forward to bringing more of its national events to Fresno," he said.