Lagniappe recently examined the impact of athletic tourism on the local economy in a study by the Mobile Sports Authority. Another report indicates just how widespread this financial model has become.

The Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission is announcing the Alabama Gulf Coast had a record year in 2013 with athletic tourism activities. The group, along with the two cities, hosted 94 athletic events.

The economic study said this translated into 71,931 room nights and nearly $28 million in direct visitor spending. That is a 24 percent increase from 2012.

“Our sports commission works tirelessly to bring a variety of athletic events to coastal Alabama,” said Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism (the area’s official destination marketing group). “Many families that travel to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for sporting events end up coming back as vacationers to our family-friendly beach destination, bringing the sports tourism full-circle.

“This results in a boost in retail sales and lodging revenues in peak and shoulder seasons for businesses across the area.”

Two new events that took place in 2013 were The Color Run and the Xtreme Obstacle Challenge. An extensive track facilities upgrade by Gulf Shores included a state-of-the-art polyurethane running surface, plus the addition of a steeplechase, high jump and pole vault pits and standards.

The 2014 schedule has already started. The Sweetheart Run at The Hangout took place last weekend.

Other key events this year include: Orange Beach Soccer Shootout, March 23-24; The Color Run, April 5; AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championship, May 1-4; NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championship, May 22-24; USSSA Baseball Global Word Series I-V, June and July; Brett Robinson Alabama Coastal Triathlon, Sept. 5; SEC Women’s Soccer Championship, Nov. 3-9; Kaiser Realty by Wyndham Vacation Rentals Coastal Half-Marathon and 5-K Run, Nov. 29; and the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship, Dec. 1-6.

For more information, call 800-745-SAND (7263), or visit www.GulfShoresOrangeBeachSports.com.

I’ll tumble for you

The Mobile Sports Authority has also been actively pursing this consumer segment. The group, in conjunction with the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and Planet Gymnastics, has recruited three major USA Gymnastics meets for the city.

The first one – the 17th annual Mardi Gras Invitation – just took place at the Planet Gymnastics facility on Schillinger Road.

Still to come are the 2014 USA Gymnastics Alabama State Compulsory Championships on Dec. 5-7, while the 2015 USA Gymnastics Region 8 Championships (Levels 7 & 8) will take place April 24-26 of next year. Those two meets will be at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center.

“With the growing popularity of gymnastics, the MSA has worked hard to attract major gymnastics meets to Mobile for a while now,” said Danny Corte, executive director of MSA. “Our perseverance paid off, with us finally landing these gymnastics events for Mobile. With an average of 2,500 visitors expected in town for each of these three meets, that equates to an expected $8 million plus in total economic impact to our area.”

Playing a key role in getting the USA Gymnastics events to Mobile is Planet Gymnastics owner Vladimir Novikov, himself a 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist for Russia.

“Our Alabama gymnasts are now capable of winning national championships and securing scholarships at top universities,” Novikov said. “I put this progress down to our state chair, Deb Walls, who has been at the helm for over 20 years.”

Novikov said when Planet Gymnastics first hosted the Alabama state championships in 1999, it was a small event that could be held at their West Mobile facility. With close to 1,000 competitors and their families expected to arrive in December, the downtown convention center was now needed.

In regards to the Region 8 championships, Novikov said, “You can bet that future Olympians will be participating, and we hope they will remember their experience in Mobile as a special one.”

Golf event to aid cancer research

Children’s of Alabama hospital is hosting its ninth annual “Tee Off Fore A Cure” on Feb. 28 and March 1. The tournament will take place at Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear.

Proceeds will benefit the Alabama Centers for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Birmingham medical facility. During the last eight years, this event has raised more than $475,000 for cancer research at Children’s of Alabama, which received more than 1,800 visits last year by children from Baldwin and Mobile counties.

The weekend is in honor of 14-year-old Frances Grace Hirs of Fairhope, a local survivor and a patient at Children’s of Alabama. One year ago, she was diagnosed for the third time with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She and her parents, along with the staff at Lakewood, hope to raise awareness for the Birmingham cancer clinic.

A pre-party and silent auction will start activities that Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Wash House restaurant at 17111 Scenic Hwy. 98 in Point Clear. The event is complimentary to participating golfers and guests, but the public may attend for $25 a person. Heavy hors d’oeuvers and live music will be provided.

The Gracie’s Golf Ball Drop fundraiser is back for the second year. Up to 5,000 pre-sold, numbered golf balls will be dropped over a hole at Lakewood. The first ball in or closest to the hole will win 25 percent of the proceeds, which is up to $5,000.

The golf tournament begins with a shotgun start at 9 a.m that Saturday. Fees are $200 per golfer, or $800 per team.

For more details, call Kerrie Benson at 251-610-4969 or visit http://childrensal.kintera.org/14teeoff.