“Rollin’ on the river” is taking on a whole new meaning in the Peoria area. That’s because USA Roller Sports has signed a contract to host its 2009 National Championships in Carver Arena. USARS is the recognized national governing body for competitive roller sports in the United States. It is devoted to organized roller sports of all kinds, including speed, figure, inline hockey, hardball hockey, recreation and aggressive. The two championship events that will be held in Carver Arena are speed skating and figure skating. Men, women and children of all ages participate. You can learn more at their website, usarollersports.org.

This is an ideal tourism client for several reasons. Thousands of participants from all over the country will flood the area in waves over the course of three consecutive weeks. For many, this will be their first time in Illinois, much less the Peoria area. Research shows we will sell 10,000 to 12,000 hotel room nights to those visitors—by far the largest number of room nights any single event has ever drawn here. To give you perspective, our two largest room night producers to date, the annual IHSA Boys Basketball tournaments and the biennial National Softball Association “B” World Series tournaments, each produce 6,000 to 7,000 room nights.

And it’s not just the amount of rooms, but the time of year those rooms will be occupied. USARS will be here July 16th through August 10th, typically a very slow period for both the Civic Center and area hotels. Also, the participants themselves are usually moms and dads, sons and daughters, and grandparents; this is truly a family sport. Many of those families turn their annual trip to the USARS National Championships into their family vacation. They will spend a few days competing and the rest of the week checking out everything the host area has to offer, which is good news for the hotels, restaurants, attractions and shops throughout the entire Peoria area.

On a grander scale, USARS is an Olympic organization. Therefore, it should bode well for us in future efforts to entice other Olympic organizations to bring their events here. In fact we are already in talks with several, which can only raise our profile nationally among the sports community. But equally as important, if Chicago lands the 2016 Summer Games, we hope to position the Peoria area to benefit in some way, either by hosting a smaller event or attracting Olympic athletes to train here before the games begin. (We won’t know until October 2009 if Chicago wins the bid.)

A reporter recently asked me if I thought the Peoria area would embrace a somewhat unusual sporting event. I couldn’t help but laugh. If there is anywhere in the country where sports are welcome, regardless of their nature, it’s here. If there is anywhere in the country where people embrace and welcome strangers, it’s here. And USARS executives could have picked anywhere in the country to hold their event, and they chose here. IBI