The Hope and Will First Lady’s Challenge will bring teams from across the Southeast to Cobb County from Feb. 16 through 18 — and more than $700,000 into the local economy, according to the Cobb Travel and Tourism.
Tournament organizer Michael Fletcher, executive director of the A5 volleyball club, expects this first edition of the event to be just the beginning.
“I hope to double (the number of teams competing) next year,” he said. “But first and foremost, we have to do this right.”
Fletcher has plenty of experience in putting on club volleyball events in the Atlanta area. Over the last five years, he has created five other events — the Southern Dream in Gwinnett County; the Icebreaker, Beast of the Southeast, and the Southern Youth Festival, which are all held in Suwanee; and the Kudzu Klassic in Atlanta.
The Southern Dream tournament, which was held Jan. 19 through 21, is the only other three-day tournament of the group. The others are two-day events.
The Gwinnett County Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that, with 120 teams, the area had more than 1,000 room nights booked because of the tournament.
If Fletcher’s vision is realized, The Hope and Will First Lady’s Challenge could grow to an event worth more than $2 million to Cobb County annually.
“There are successful President’s Day volleyball tournaments in other markets throughout the United States,” Fletcher said about tournaments in Chicago, Reno and Omaha. “And we thought, ‘Why not Atlanta?’ The Cobb Galleria Centre is a first-class facility where we can have the makings of a national-caliber tournament. We see this tournament growing to more than 300 teams over time.”
The inaugural tournament is expected to bring in teams from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida. It will feature age brackets from under 12 to 18 in both the club and open divisions.
The club divisions are for casual players who have formed teams for the sake of having fun. The open divisions are for the more serious players trying to improve in high school competition with the possibility of playing at the collegiate level.
With as many potential good players in one place (nearly two-thirds of the teams entered are in the open divisions), Fletcher is expecting to draw 50-plus college coaches to the tournament.
Registration is still open for the event. Club teams interested in participating can sign up at www.advancedeventsystems.com. Each team’s entry fee is $545.
Games will be played in two of the Galleria Centre’s four exhibition halls. There will be as many as 18 matches being played at any one time. Admission for the tournament, which is open to the public, is $5 a day. Competition will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday.