Last weekend it was the BMX Supercross World Cup at Sarasota BMX. This weekend: The U.S. Australian Football national championships at Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch. Next month: The lawn bowling U.S. Open at the Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club. Next year, the USA Hockey adult nationals at Ellenton Ice and Sports and, of course, the much-anticipated 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park--plus countless other events in between. The Sarasota-Manatee area continues to nurture its growing reputation as a sports hub, which means, in addition to the much-touted economic benefits, us sports geeks get to revel in all kinds of athletic education.
The Aussie football championship, like most if not all of these events, comes here for two major reasons: excellent facilities for the event itself, and Sarasota-Manatee's stellar tourism attributes for athletes and their supporters to enjoy off the field. In this case, the 140-acre Premier campus is one of the few venues in the country that can accommodate five Aussie rules fields, according to USAFL media director Brian Barrish. (Aussie fields are oval-shaped and huge--encompassing more area than a soccer field to accommodate the 36 players competing at any given time.) Premier is also "among the best quality fields we've ever played on in our 20-year history," he says.
Nearly 1,000 athletes (men and women) representing 36 teams from Seattle to L.A. to Calgary will be competing this weekend, with games starting at 9 a.m. Saturday and concluding with the the Div. I final Sunday at 4 p.m. The sport, which includes hits and tackles but is more closely related to soccer than rugby, is immensely popular in Australia, with some games drawing upwards of 100,000 fans. Curious newbs (and, of course, any Southwest Florida footy fanatics out there) are encouraged to come take a gander; it's free for spectators. Advises Barrish: "Look for a fast, nonstop game with plenty of action."