Sports events large and small bring with them opportunities to create something lasting, whether in the communities that host them or in support of a worthy cause. With a captive audience at their fingertips, planners have a unique opportunity to expand the scope of an event beyond the parameters of competition, providing exponential wins. Consider Super Bowl LII and the huge win that was scored with Zero-Waste Legacy Project, in which 91 percent of the trash from the event was spared from landfills through composting, recycling and reuse. The positive energy created by that effort contrasts dramatically with events that are remembered for their negative environmental impacts or intense draws on local resources.
Industry professionals increasingly recognize the importance of leaving a positive legacy and giving back to communities and constituents. And while many sports events will not engage in a legacy project on the scale of the Super Bowl, groups are finding creative ways to deliver the kind of impact that supersedes competition. Here are a few of their stories.
Every year since 1980, cyclists have gathered for the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) with the sole purpose of supporting the Jimmy Fund, which provides critical funding resources to support cancer research and initiatives at the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The bike-a-thon has raised $598 million since its inception—more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the world—for adult and pediatric patient care. Notably, 100 percent of every rider-raised dollar goes directly to the cause, generating more than 53 percent of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue as Dana–Farber’s single largest contributor.
“Each year, more than 75 percent of PMC riders return to participate thanks to the incomparable community and family we’ve created since 1980,” said PMC Founder and Executive Director Billy Starr. “In fact, we’re in our third generation of participation by our early riders’ family and friends. This legacy effect occurs because the values the PMC represents—commitment, giving back and health—are values shared by our constituency.”
Starr graduated from college with the expectation of backpacking around the world but then his mother became critically ill with cancer at the young age of 49 and died from melanoma in June 1974. In 1980, Starr led dozens of friends on a weekend bike ride with the goal of raising money to combat cancer, giving birth to PMC. Today, the organization has successfully melded support from committed cyclists, volunteers, corporate sponsors and individual contributors, and draws approximately 6,000 cyclists from 41 states and seven countries annually.
“We all come together with the common goal to one day eradicate cancer and once you’ve committed to that, it’s difficult to stop while you’re able to participate since there’s still work to be done,” he said, pointing to the loyalty of the event’s following. “Being a PMC rider is a life well-lived and those who invest want to see these values and commitment passed on via the people they love and work with.”
According to Roger Goudy, president and CEO of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), AAU Cares is the organization’s way of giving back to the community. The program launched in 2016 by donating bicycles to underprivileged youth in New York City. Since that time, Goudy said that he has been encouraged by the response the program has received.
“My initial thoughts on this have been far exceeded by what I thought we could do because it’s just incredible the way this keeps expanding and the way the general public has embraced it,” Goudy said. “We are really proud of our AAU Cares initiative because it goes along with our philosophy about developing the complete athlete. Beyond sports, we want them to learn social responsibility and academic awareness and develop as a whole human being.”
Goudy is particularly proud of the organization’s Feeding Children Everywhere initiative, a program that empowers and mobilizes people to assemble healthy meals for hungry children. Last year, players, coaches and officials, in conjunction with AAU volleyball leadership, volunteered their time to package 80,000 meals for underprivileged youth at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
“It started as just a thing where we thought we could just get some teams out there, but low and behold, there were also parents, coaches and referees.” Goudy said. “Everyone showed up and embraced it. They enjoyed doing something more for kids rather than just playing volleyball.”
Rocky Top Sports World
During one of the largest natural disasters in Tennessee, Rocky Top Sports World was available to serve its neighbors in a variety of ways. An indoor and outdoor sports campus in Gatlinburg, the facility opened its doors to serve shelter victims from the devastating fires that ravaged the city in 2016, following the evacuation of approximately 14,000 residents and tourists.
“During the critical hours of evacuation, we opened our doors to serve as a shelter for fire victims and remained open for two and a half weeks in that capacity,” said Lori Moore, general manager of Rocky Top Sports World. “At the same time, we were the staging and dispatch center for hundreds of firefighters from across the country who came to assist during the disaster.”
In addition, Moore said the facility served as a distribution center for food, clothing and medicine 24 hours a day. More than 80,000 meals were served or delivered to shelter residents or citizens who had lost power or were homebound.
When asked how the support impacted the way sports groups view Rocky Top Sports World, Moore noted that “the question may not be in how it impacted our athletes and spectators view of Rocky Top but how very important those groups were in our recovery.” She pointed out that the late winter and spring months are a very busy time for the facility and it was important that the organization confirm with event owners that restaurants, attractions and hotels were open and ready for business. “The clubs and teams supported these events and Gatlinburg by their presence,” she said. “By sharing their experience through social media and by word of mouth in their hometowns, they became ambassadors for assuring the public that Gatlinburg was thriving.”