BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County has won the bid to host the 2020 Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games later this summer, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
The event will boost the local tourism sector that has been struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re absolutely thrilled that we’re getting this opportunity,” Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis said. “The timing of it couldn’t be any better.”
Cranis said he expects 10 to 15 sports will be contested at the 2020 Junior Olympics, although details are still being worked out. The games likely will be held during the last week in July and the first week in August.
Cranis expects 2,000 to 3,000 athletes to attend, and that there would be at least a $3 million to $3.5 million economic impact for the county. That includes as many as 10,000 nights of hotel room rentals, as well as increased business at local restaurants and retail shops.
The businesses will benefit from an influx of athletes, coaches, parents and others to the area from other parts of Florida and from other states.
Cranis said the Sunshine State Games competition for Florida residents will be held in conjunction with the Junior Olympics for athletes from throughout the country, enabling Florida athletes to compete in the same venue as the nation's elite athletes.
The 2020 Junior Olympics also will include the first-ever Presidential Youth Fitness Program event as part of the games. That program is aimed at modernizing fitness education in school physical education classrooms by emphasizing student health, goal-setting and a personal program.
Cranis said indoor events, plus outdoor track and field events, will be held primarily at Brevard School District venues. Other outdoor events will be held primarily at Brevard County Parks and Recreation Department venues.
More details will be released at a news conference Thursday morning at Viera Regional Park, when Gov. Ron DeSantis will make the formal announcement about Brevard County hosting the Junior Olympics.
DeSantis has been a proponent of attracting more professional and amateur sports to Florida.
The annual Junior Olympics for athletes ages 8 to 18 originally was scheduled to be held this summer in the Norfolk/Hampton Roads/Tidewater area of Virginia. But the AAU was informed that some of the venues needed for the games likely would not be available, partly because Norfolk State University is shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On May 28, the Brevard County Commission and Brevard County Tourist Development Council approved a package of incentives to help attract the Junior Olympics to Brevard, funded by the county's 5% Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals. They include:
- $50,000 in the form of a tourism capital facilities grant to help pay for $260,000 in improvements in the track at Viera High School, a venue needed for the track and field events of the Junior Olympics, which is a signature sport of the games. Brevard School Board member Matt Susin said about $165,000 previously has been secured for the project, and another fundraiser for the track is planned this month that could raise $25,000 to $30,000.
- Up to $100,000 in the form of a tourism sports grant to help pay for referees and other officials, with half of that potentially offset by other grants.
In addition, the plan calls for the county's Parks and Recreation Department to waive up to $50,000 in fees for use of venues and staffing expenses.
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey told commissioners that his department has $30,000 in state forfeiture money that he could direct into this event to offset the county’s financial commitment, as it would fall under the provision of how that portion of the forfeiture money could be used.
This will be the 54th AAU Junior Olympics, and the second time the Junior Olympics will be held on the Space Coast, the first being in 1994. They also have been held in other Florida communities four times, including Jacksonville (1984), St. Petersburg (1990), Tallahassee (1991) and Central Florida (2000).
In all, 32 communities throughout the country have hosted the Junior Olympics since its inception in 1967.
Bringing the games here was a collaboration involving the AAU, the Space Coast Office of Tourism, DeSantis, the Florida Sports Foundation, the Sunshine State Games and the County Commission.
The event planning management team will be led by Jennings "Rusty" Buchanan of Cocoa Beach, the AAU's first vice president and a longtime champion of amateur youth sports. He was a 2014 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame inductee as a Brevard sports tourism pioneer, and has run AAU events and other sport event programming on the Space Coast area for more than 30 years.
The 2020 games will be a scaled-down version of typical Junior Olympics, because of COVID-19, and the hesitation of some athletes and their families to attend such an event.
For example, the 2019 Junior Olympics in Greensboro, North Carolina, attracted 18,000 athletes and 50,000 spectators, making it the largest multisport event in the nation. Fourteen sport competitions were featured in the 11-day event.
Track and field is the largest event, with 13,601 track athletes participating in the 2019 games.
When the Space Coast hosted the games in 1994, there were 20 sports, 8,800 athletes and 1,059 coaches.
With the 2020 games, Florida will have hosted the event six times. Other states that have hosted the event the most times are Tennessee (seven), Iowa (six). Michigan (five) and Virginia (five).
Notable Junior Olympics alumni include LeBron James (basketball), Dwayne Wade (basketball), Jackie Joyner Kersee (track), Carl Lewis (track), Madison Bumgarner (baseball), Robert Griffin III (football) and Ezekiel Elliott (football).
News 6 partner Florida Today reported on this story