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June 26, 2024 New Sports Regional Complex meets, if not exceeds, expectations

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MIDDLEBURG — Taxpayers were told that if they helped pay for the Clay County Regional Sports Complex, teams from around the country would come to use the facility, and they’d be repaid when out-of-towners spend money in local hotels, restaurants and shops.

It was billed as a one-of-a-kind 250-acre complex with eight multi-purpose fields that can easily be transformed to host soccer, lacrosse, flag football, field hockey, spike ball and ultimate frisbee tournaments.

Clay Today spent a day talking with athletes competing at the Sunshine State Games Ultimate Frisbee Championships to get their opinions on the facility.

Besides not having any place to buy food within 15 minutes of the complex — any enterprising food truck should take notice a tournament usually attracts between 330 to more than 1,000 people — everyone was extremely impressed.

“Those are among the best fields I’ve ever played on, and I’ve been playing Ultimate Frisbee since 2014,” said Sunshine State Game Director Eric Tumelty. “The quality of the grass, it’s all even. It’s all full-rooted grass. There are no patches of dirt. There are no weeds, no rough grass that cuts you up when you slide. I’ve played on Astroturf before, and if you dive or slide, it can slice up your whole arms or legs. So with this grass, I don’t think anyone had any major cuts or bruises from sliding or diving.”

Roger King drove from Tampa and said fields were designed mainly for soccer. He said what struck him the most was, “Everything here is so very green. It’s aesthetically pleasing. These are great fields, and they look like they can be used for many different sports.”

The first of three phases is done. The county received $3 million in legislative matching funds and another $2.5 million in legislative appropriations to start the first of the $7 million needed. The county broke ground on March 28, 2023, and opened the complex on April 5. Eight days later, 97 teams competed in the Jaguars NFL Regional Flag Football Tournament.

Airstream Ventures, which books Clay County’s sports events, also has booked the Florida Prep Lacrosse Showcase, the United Flag Football League Championship and Spike the Ball Regional Championship. Airstream CEO Alan Verlander said he’s currently negotiating to bring two more Florida Lacrosse Showcases, seven-on-seven and five-on-five regional football championships, another United Flag Football League Championship, Collee Lacrosse Spring Break Round Robin, United Rugby Championship, High School and Middle School Cross Country Meets with more than 1,000 runners and Punt, Pass and Kick Championships.

“I’ve heard nothing but compliments,” said Kyle O’Conner of Oviedo. “You have plenty of space to hold lots of events. It’s one of the best complexes I’ve played at. The lines are clear. The grass is perfect.”

“Props to the grounds crew,” said Miami’s A.J.

Tumelty said the fields were worthy of world championship competitions.

“All I heard was good things about the fields,” he said. “I know a lot of players didn’t interact with the staff, but the staff here was incredibly helpful, from making sure water (coolers) were full and ice (was available) to having a perfect lining of the field. Those lines were World Championship, National Championship caliber lines.”

Tumelty then said what taxpayers should want to hear most.

“We intend on coming back here for more events,” he said.

Article written by Don Coble

Clay Today