KINGMAN - Whether they're travelers passing by or residents who have lived in Kingman for a long time, everyone takes a moment to marvel at Centennial Park when they are heading west on I-40. Centennial is one of Kingman's prized jewels along with Southside Park, and the facilities each has holds the promise of Kingman becoming a sports destination locale.
"We want to make that mark," said city of Kingman recreation coordinator Ryan Fruhwirth. "Kingman has vastly superior facilities and vastly superior weather. We've had tourists pull off to see the big park."
Kingman once hosted multiple softball tournaments during a calendar year that featured out-of-town traveling teams coming to mix it up with local squads. It was around the time of the Great Recession in 2008 when those tournaments began to fade away. It was a perfect storm for Kingman softball with the failing economy colliding with those who had the knowledge of running the tournaments in Kingman no longer being around due to moves, lost jobs or lack of interest.
"The holy grail of sports tourism is training the people behind you," Fruhwirth said. "Somewhere the ball was dropped."
Fruhwirth has picked the ball up and is steering Kingman toward becoming a place for people to come play. Since joining Kingman's Park and Recreation Department in 2014, Fruhwirth has moved Kingman from hosting six softball tournaments to hosting 11 this year. He's shown the propensity of overseeing growth. Bullhead City's senior softball tournament went from eight teams in 2006 to 86 teams in 2014 under his watch.
The first step Fruhwirth is taking is with the 2016 Girls Amateur Softball Association 12U (12-and-under) Girls Fast Pitch Class "B" Western National Championship from July 26 - July 31. This tournament was hosted by Medford, Ore., in 2015 and hosted 39 teams. Kingman's tournament officials are conservatively estimating 35 teams and more than 2,000 family members to descend on Kingman for the five-day tournament at Centennial Park.
"We've got teams coming from all over the western United States," Fruhwirth said. "It's a last chance for a lot of teams, so we're going to have an amazing caliber of teams coming from New Mexico, Oregon, California, etc."
The estimated economic impact for Kingman is in the $2 million range. And if this tournament is to prove to be the catalyst to getting Kingman known as a sports tourism destination, it needs to be a collective effort.
"We're putting our best foot forward, and we're going to need the businesses in Kingman help us do that," Fruhwirth said. "These people are coming here and paying our taxes, but we don't have to provide them with police services, road maintenance or water hook-ups. They're leaving. That's why other cities and towns want to be sports-economy based."
Kingman already has the many things that those willing to travel to play sports want. Kingman's location is ideal being close to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Southern California. There is plenty of other things for folks to do while they are here such as visiting the mountains, the lakes and the Grand Canyon. Centennial and Southside parks provide 13 playing fields in comfortable environments. The things a city needs to sell are already present, but it's the city's business owners and residents who need to put those things into play.
"Kingman needs to roll out the red carpet," Fruhwirth said. "We need to expose ourselves to the coaches and parents. No (marketing) campaign can give us the exposure this tournament will."
One demographic for tournaments that is being closely scrutinized is the seniors. Senior softball is big all over the country and has national tournaments for eight men's divisions and four women's divisions.
Kingman Senior Softball is one of those many teams and KSS seems to always be on the road traveling to tournaments.
"We're traveling as much as we did when I was a kid," said KSS team member and long-time Kingman resident Curtis Cutshaw. "We planned on two tournaments a year, but we're at eight plus nationals. It's not a bunch of guys hanging on, it's good quality softball."
Cutshaw has been to plenty of senior tournaments in many different cities and towns, and he's a believer Kingman can be a place for the games to be played.
"Senior softball could reignite good-sized tournaments to Kingman," he said. "It's about promotion. The people who run the tournaments have to have a love for the game and want success. At the end of the tournament, you want people to remember it."
Kingman has the golden opportunity to step into the sports tourism industry with its two jewels - Centennial and Southside parks - already in place and open for business.
It just can't drop the ball during the tournament next month.
"I can't force the businesses here in Kingman to step up, but we need those red carpets," Fruhwirth said. "We need businesses to welcome players on their marquees and signs. The city of Kingman is non-profit and we're not looking to make money. But we do want to lessen the tax burden here."