July 12, 2013

Ready for the weekend: Southeastern 7-on-7 returns with biggest field yet

By Devin Golden

— From securing playing fields to finding high school football teams to fill out a 42-team bracket — and sometimes having all of that change at the last minute — putting on an event as large as the Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship is no easy task.

But for the third year, The Daily Citizen has partnered with numerous organizations and schools in the Dalton area to provide a competitive atmosphere for teams from Louisiana to North Carolina, Florida to Indiana, and just about every state in between, as their players test their abilities and vie for the coveted championship.

Teams are divided into seven pools for the AstroTurf-sponsored event. Beginning at noon Saturday they’ll play a round-robin schedule that will last late into the evening. Starting at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, the top four teams from each pool will advance to the double-elimination championship bracket, while the bottom three teams will compete in the double-elimination consolation bracket.

The tournament championships for both the championship and consolation brackets are scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. For a complete schedule, with field locations, visit the website, www.southeastern7on7.com.

Some of the teams competing this weekend will travel long distances, but for those planning and organizing the event the past 11 months have been a trip all of its own.

“(Planning for this year’s tournament) started a month after we got done with last year’s tournament,” said Gary Jones, The Daily Citizen’s advertising director. “It’s exhausting. In the third year, I thought it’d be easier, but it’s not. Maybe it’s because we grew too fast. We added 10 teams. Trying to keep 42 coaches and teams together, there’s going to be some bumps along the way.”

The event had 32 teams in 2012, up from 20 in the inaugural version.

Planning the event started with a survey sent out to coaches of last year’s participating teams asking for feedback to improve future editions of the tournament. It continued with finding facilities, determining the desired number of teams and selecting specific teams to invite. Then organizers’ attention turned to locking up sponsors and volunteers.

One thing Jones has learned is that each year there is at least one team that backs out after committing earlier.

“It is the most frustrating part,” Jones said.

Northwest Whitfield High School in Tunnel Hill and Christian Heritage School in Dalton will provide fields and facilities — plus volunteers — for Pools E and F, respectively. The Dalton Parks and Recreation Department will lend fields at James Brown Park, adjacent to the Dalton Parks and Recreation Center at 904 Civic Drive, for Pools A, B and C, and the Mack Gaston Community Center at 214 Fredrick St. in Dalton will host Pool D.

The championship bracket final is at James Brown Park, while the consolation bracket final is at the community center. Those two sites will host all of Sunday’s bracket play games.

Jones said there will be around 75 volunteers, 60 referees from the North Georgia Officials Association, more than 1,200 athletes and around 60 sponsors or “partners.”

Northwest put on a five-team, seven-on-seven event last month involving schools from around the area, so Bruins coaches are familiar with what goes into such a tournament, albeit on a smaller scale.

“On Saturday, we’re going to have five shifts and around six people per shift, not including our non-skill player coaches,” Bruins coach Josh Robinson said. “That doesn’t include the clocks, so I guess around nine per shift. ... We’re excited to bring some of the games up here.”

While those involved acknowledge it’s a challenge to put on the tournament, they also say the event has its perks. Coaches and organizers tout a competitive football environment — something of an appetizer leading to the fall, when high school football blossoms in full — and the tournament also brings in tourism revenue.

Jennifer Byrd, sports sales manager for the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), estimates the economic impact from last year’s event at $650,000. She said there were around 900 guests from out of town coming into the city to use the area’s hotels, restaurants and stores.

“This year we estimate it to be over $1 million,” Byrd said. “We don’t know the exact numbers yet because after the tournament is when the hotels report back to us. ... We should have at least 250-300 hotel rooms (occupied). That’s great because we estimate the impact by the hotel-motel tax. That’s how the convention and visitors bureau is paid.”

Showcasing the area is an important part of the tournament, said William Bronson, The Daily Citizen’s publisher.

“The biggest thing was we wanted to show off Dalton as the city and we wanted to show off the entire community as a partner that is extremely enthusiastic about its athletics,” he said. “This is not a newspaper event, but a community event. And this event has grown larger than we ever imagined.

“We are extremely proud to have partners like the CVB, the city of Dalton, Christian Heritage, Northwest Whitfield High School and Dalton Parks and Recreation.”