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COVID crisis shuts down large visitor draw for second year
A popular sporting and visitors event in Roswell has been canceled for the second year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hike It and Spike It, a charity flag-football tournament that has ranked as the No. 1 visitor draw for the city in past years and typically has occurred annually since 1995, will not be held this May, Jim Matteucci, a local organizer, said.
He added that he cannot say at this time whether the annual tournament will occur in 2022, given the uncertainty of what will happen with the coronavirus, city funding or sponsorships.
The announcement of this year’s cancellation was first made Friday night on the group’s website, www.roswellgridiron.com, and its Facebook page. Posts explained that PS Sports Inc. of Michigan, the parent company, and local organizers had as their primary concern the “safety and well-being of our players, spectators, staff, volunteers, sponsors and vendors.”
Matteucci said other factors are at work as well, including that the tournament requires many months of planning and preparation and would be difficult to organize without knowing what will be happening with either the coronavirus or with public health orders during Memorial Day weekend.
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“There are several things that went into play,” he said. “For 24 years, we have put on a very high quality event. Because of the uncertainty of everything going forward, we know that if we did an event now, it would not be anywhere close to the quality that people are used to, which would lead to additional problems that just aren’t necessary. The lockdown that the state has in place for the safety for all citizens is still in effect to a certain degree.”
The tournament, which brought an estimated 4,875 visitors to Roswell in 2018, typically books “every room” and many of the restaurants in the city, Matteucci said. Right now, local lodging and dining businesses are uncertain about their futures or how they will be allowed to operate in May, he said.
In addition, Eastern New Mexico Medical Center provides what he called an “on-site hospital” for the tournament in case of injuries.
“I am not even in a place, knowing how swamped they are, to ask them to spend countless hours and dollars and resources to prepare for that,” Matteucci said. “They have their hands full right now. Without them, we can’t run this event. It wouldn’t be safe.”
In 2020, a cancellation decision for that year’s May 22-24 event was made March 28, just as COVID-19 was beginning to affect New Mexico and the first public health orders in the state requiring social distancing, limits on crowd sizes and face coverings went into effect.
The loss to the Roswell economy is significant. According to information compiled by organizers in 2019, the 2018 tournament involved 527 teams and 3,756 players from 30 states. An equal number of spectators and family and friends were estimated to attend games. About 65% of participants and crowd members were believed to be from outside Roswell. Another 500 people participate as volunteers, Matteucci said. Total direct economic impact was put at $3.99 million. In addition, $22,000 was raised for local charities.
The Friday post about cancellation drew many upset comments, including some suggesting that the event be moved to Texas or that others organize their own event.
Matteucci said the tournament — the only one sponsored by PS Sports and Matteucci and his local business partner, Cla Avery — is unique and unlikely to be replicated. He thinks the city of Roswell deserves credit for having a hand in how the tournament benefits many different people and organizations in the community.
He also said the tournament enjoyed by so many participants and attendees is the product of years of relationship-building.
“We don’t expect people to understand how many people put in how many hours to prepare for this event,” he said. “We just want them to go and have a good time, so they haven’t thought the process through and understand how we made the decision.”
Matteucci said that moving the tournament to later in 2021 isn’t a good option, either. Originally Hike It and Spike It occurred around Thanksgiving weekend, but then weather could be a factor and the timing conflicted with collegiate and high school sports.
A city official said she understood the organizers’ decision.
“Due to our current situation, I respect the event organizers’ desire to protect the safety and well-being of all those involved,” said Director of Public Affairs Juanita Jennings. “Hike It and Spike It has been a valuable event, and we hope to see it return.”
Units within the Public Affairs division manage special events for the city, as well as lodgers’ tax funding requests. A tax on hotel rooms and other short-term lodging units goes into the lodgers’ tax fund, which can then be used for various initiatives or projects. That includes providing financial support for special events that will bring in visitors.
Jennings said that lodgers’ tax collections are down 38% due to the pandemic, which will affect events planned by others. The city also isn’t planning its own events for the rest of this year.
“I don’t foresee the city hosting community events this year, as all indications from our tourism partners is that the current and future health orders will not allow that opportunity for all of 2021.”
She said the city is working with the state and the New Mexico Department of Health regarding COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, in the effort to decrease infection spread and improve the county’s data that is used to determine its risk level and its restrictions.
The city “stands ready to assist with education to the citizens, provision of space for mass testings or vaccination clinics to speed up the quantity of these activities,” Jennings said, “and guidance on reopening our businesses and getting the children back to school.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.