Regardless of the season, there is usually something fun happening in the Terre Haute area that lures hundreds — sometimes thousands — of money-spending, out-of-town people to this community.
One of the most popular locations in eastern Vigo County is celebrating its 20-year anniversary in 2017. That would be the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, which debuted in October 1997.
“For cross country, there are usually about 25,000 to 30,000 people per year visiting,” said David Patterson, executive director of the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau for the past 23 years.
The NCAA Division I national championships will not take place there in 2017. That won’t happen again until 2019. So far, the Gibson course has served as the DI championships host 12 times since 2002.
“This year, we have the [NCAA] Great Lakes Regional [on Nov. 10],” Patterson noted. “We’ll probably have a couple thousand [fans] come out for that.”
The Conference Indiana championships on Sept. 16, Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) state championships Oct. 28 and Nike Cross Regional Midwest Championships on Nov. 12 are among other races that will be run in ‘17.
For the record, the IHSAA has committed to conducting its state meet at the Gibson course through 2022.
“It usually draws 6,000 people,” Patterson pointed out. “It’s a biggie. ... For the Nike Cross Championships last year, we had around 3,000 athletes, just athletes, which is incredible.”
The current high school cross country season began at the Gibson course Aug. 12 with the Valley Kickoff Classic. It was hosted by Terre Haute South Vigo.
Although these meets should be action-packed, Patterson acknowledged the atmosphere won’t feel the same without the presence of longtime Indiana State University track/cross country coach John McNichols, who died in December.
“None of this would have been possible without John,” Patterson said. “He was part of all of this — the vision, the way it was built.”
Other locations, events
Other non-downtown locations and events that bring significant dollars to Vigo County:
• Scheid Diesel Extravaganza — The 21st annual Extravaganza invaded the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds on Aug. 25-27.
“It’s going as strong as ever,” Patterson said. “We get huge crowds [often 15,000 people over three days]. ... That’s by far the biggest draw for the Fairgrounds each year. It’s a huge financial contributor to the Fairgrounds.”
Patterson addressed the number of arrests and citations issued on the city’s south side for people who attend the Extravaganza and drink alcohol or trespass elsewhere afterward.
“There’s always citations ... when you have high horsepower,” he said. “The Scheids go to great lengths to ensure security for everybody at the venue.”
• Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games — The Summer Games opening ceremonies at Hulman Center kicked off another year of ISU serving as host this past June. Almost 2,700 Special Olympics athletes and unified partners participated in the organization’s largest annual sporting event.
“The opening ceremonies are always a wonderful thing,” Patterson said.
An additional 1,100 coaches and 1,500 volunteers made their presence felt.
The 2018 Summer Games are slated for June 8-10, also at ISU. This free-admission event has been hosted by ISU every year since it debuted in 1969.
• Air show and Blue Angels coming next year — On Aug. 18-19, 2018, the U.S. Navy Flight Squadron — aka the “Blue Angels” — will fly for the entertainment of the public at Terre Haute Regional Airport.
In 2002, the first Terre Haute Air Show featured the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, attracting 50,000 people. In 2003, the show attracted 35,000 and in 2004, it dropped to 12,000 due to very rainy weather. The show rebounded in 2005 with 48,000 spectators and more than 30,000 in attendance in 2006. The last one here took place in 2007.
“Having an internationally known act like the Blue Angels will be a wonderful event for the community,” Patterson insisted. “I am looking forward to being a part of that.”
Ticket prices have not been announced yet.
• Gibson Track & Field Complex — Indiana State’s complex was dedicated in April 2015. Located on First Street at the intersection with Chestnut Street, it will serve as host for the 2018 Missouri Valley Conference outdoor championships May 11-13.
“Attendance for that is usually around 2,000 people per day,” Patterson estimated. “We’re looking at a few bids for the track so we’ll have more activity there.”
• New Terre Haute Quarter Midget Racing Association track — The THQMRA broke ground on its new, approximately 1/16-mile dirt track at South Davis Avenue and South Houseman Street in April. It should be ready for use in 2018.
“That’s going to be something,” Patterson said, adding that the THQMRA nationals are known to draw 1,500 people over 10 days. “It’s going to hold some wonderful events.”
Ages allowed to race there range from 4 1/2 to 16.
• Other attractions — An obvious magnet for auto-racing fans is the Terre Haute Action Track, although inclement weather usually seems to haunt the half-mile dirt oval.
For fans of another form of racing, the Indiana Association of Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame and Museum can be a unique way to spend an hour or two. It’s located inside the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau building.
“It has a variety of things, from the evolution of the pole vault, the poles involved, the different cleats, the starting blocks...,” Patterson pointed out. “I think there are 442 people in the Hall and 42 of those were Olympians, including our own Greg Bell [from Terre Haute]. His gold-medal jump [from 1956] is put in planks on the floor.”
Turning to basketball, the second annual Gatorade Invite AAU youth tournaments will take place June 1-3, 2018, in the Rose-Hulman Sports and Recreation Center, Wabash Valley Family Sports Center and possibly Woodrow Wilson Middle School gyms. About 80 teams in various age groups competed in the 2017 event.
Patterson also mentioned the Terre Haute Rowing Club for its future potential.
“It’s a program in its infancy,” he said. “Jack Hill, a fairly new resident to town, he’s trying to foster interest, development and competition here on the Wabash River.”
David Hughes can be reached at 812-231-4224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow David on Twitter @ TribStarDavid.