Happy 2020! Whether you’re one of those people who counts 2020 as the first year of the new decade or the last of the old, it’s still a great time to reflect on the past decade. (See my blog about our top 2019 sports moments.) But this year is as much about looking forward as it is back, and I am happy to announce many positive changes are already underway at the WMSC to strengthen our organization this year as we continue attracting and hosting youth and amateur sporting events in West Michigan:

1. Hiring a national sales manager. This month, we welcomed Alyssa Updegrave as our new national sales manager, replacing Jamie Schlagel who returned to her Minnesota hometown. An avid marathon runner, Alyssa spent the last five years at IRONMAN – first as athletic services coordinator and then race director, managing the IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta (North America's largest IRONMAN 70.3 race) and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon. Previously she was fitness programs director at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, marketing-guest relations coordinator for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and intern for Amalie Arena (home to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning) in Tampa. A Tampa native, she graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in event management. We are excited for Alyssa to help West Michigan win more sports event bids.

2. Electing a new board officer and director. Our board of directors approved the slate of 2020 officers and directors, electing Kent County Commissioner Emily Brieve as secretary (through Dec. 31, 2020). Emily has been a member of our board since 2018, and we look forward to her stepping into this larger leadership role. She replaces Scott Bernecker with Merrill Lynch, whose term expired Dec. 31. Scott was an inaugural board director, serving from 2007 to 2019. He will be missed! However, we’re excited to welcome Kurt (K.V.) Lacks, chairman/executive vice president of Lacks Enterprises, to replace Scott as our newest board director.

3. Dedicating our new office space. We moved into our new 2,500-square foot office at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, dedicating our space with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 22 attended by representatives of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce as well as our partners in hospitality – Doug Small representing Experience Grand Rapids, County Administrator Wayman Britt and Board of Commissioners Chair Mandy Bolter with Kent County, and many of our corporate partners who contribute to our success in sports tourism. This is the first time we have had our own dedicated office, having been provided space by our partners, Experience Grand Rapids, since we were founded in 2007. Designed and built by Progressive AE and Westside Construction Services, our office features open-concept, mobile work spaces plus colorful wall graphics of athletes playing sports and our vision and mission. Guests are welcomed by a “turf” wall with jumbo screen showing national sports events highlights in Grand Rapids. Come visit us and have a go at our shuffleboard table!

4. Winning new bids. While we’re only a few weeks into the new year, we have already received news on event proposals we submitted, winning bids to host the USA Gymnastics 2020 Regional Championships plus the USA Softball 2020 Men's Open East Fast Pitch, 2020 Men's Class D Slow Pitch, 2021 Men's open East Fast Pitch and 2021 Men's Class D Slow Pitch events.

5. Preparing for Olympic Games-style events. In addition to our annual Meijer State Games - Winter Games (Feb. 14-16) and Summer Games (June 25-28), we have two additional Games-style events on our 2020 roster. We’re bringing back the West Michigan Corporate Challenge April 16-30, an event we started in 2018 to build comradery among companies through fun business-to-business competition. Amway Grand Plaza; Brunswick Bowling Products LLC; Marsh Berry & Co.; Regal Financial Group, LLC; Suburban Inns and the WMSC have already stepped forward with teams. Register your organization and get in on the action! 

And running simultaneous to the Summer Games is the 2020 USA Masters Games June 19-28. This multisport, Olympic-style event for athletes 21 and older features 28 sports, Opening and Closing Ceremonies, a Games Village, social activities and entertainment. Only the third edition since it started in 2016, the 2020 Masters Games will bring competitions to 27 venues across West Michigan. Registration is already open for 17 events – register today!

Mike Guswiler
Mike is president of the West Michigan Sports Commission.

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As we prepare for 2020, I’d like to take a moment to review 2019 – it was another great year for youth and amateur sports in West Michigan!