Events: time to think big again


   What an electric week in Madras.
   That District 5 Little League All-Star Tournament was a powerful reminder of the economic impact major events can have on community, especially a small community likes ours. Obviously, they bring people in and -- even more importantly -- keep them here for a few nights.
   That's the economic key: keeping people in town for a couple nights. That means lodging and multiple visits to restaurants, more time to visit more businesses and to fully experience the community. This opposed to coming to town for a quick game, which might result in the visitors grabbing a drive-through burger, if not just a piece of jerky and a gas tank fill-up before heading home.
   It's exciting to learn of the success our lodging businesses, restaurants, grocery stores and other establishments had with the tournament. May I be so bold as to suggest for them that we work on getting more multiple-day events, athletic and otherwise, to town?
   Not that it's easy to do. It isn't. I'm sure the army of volunteers who worked so hard and invested so many hours can attest to just what it takes on the ground. It's just that the importance of doing so is vital.
   The hotels and motels and restaurants -- the businesses that get the largest economic benefits from the events -- could, and should, play a huge role in financially helping something happen. If they can, I think they will.
   Certainly last week's Little League tournament proved to everyone, or reminded them, what a great economic benefit large-drawing athletic events could be. I'm sure the District 5 tourney will be back to town, but not before The Dalles, Bend, Hood River and other district towns likely get their turns.
   Congratulations to the local league's board and the army of volunteers who did the work, enabling so many to just enjoy, have fun, and for still others, to profit.
   Our best chance of seeing regular, large-scale sporting events in Madras, which would bring families to town, likely lies with the high school. Their focus, as it should be, is their students, not necessarily feeding the community's businesses coffers. But the school district views itself as a community contributor, and it is. Following the recent voter approval of a new football stadium and performing arts center, I think the school district is all the more ready to do what it can, to give back.
   Madras High has a new athletic director, Rory Oyster. He's energetic and driven to succeed. With a new era starting at MHS, and new facilities on the horizon, now is the time to consider possibilities.
   Many of the school's former big events -- the Madras Invitation cross-country meet, the Nels Ochs Memorial wrestling meet, and the former Rotary track meet -- have disappeared, for facility and other reasons. Hopefully the new era will bring a resurgence to large MHS athletic events.
   Here's an idea: The High Desert Football Classic over Labor Day Weekend -- a jamboree featuring 24 teams. What a perfect way to inaugurate the new football stadium. This event could entail eight 2A teams, eight 3A teams and eight 4A teams -- 24 squads of high school football players, and their families, in Madras from Friday through Sunday. Sure, it may be tough to draw such a large field, but with strong community buy-in, the event could grow. What a great team-building opportunity for squads, and community infusion for Madras.
   Again, multi-day runs are a key to said event's economic contribution. Maybe a substantial youth athletic event could be part of a weeklong festival in Madras.
   How about this for a potential itinerary: Start the last weekend of August with the air show. The Airshow of the Cascades is an excellent event, our strongest along with the fair, and it well showcases a key element of our community: our airport.
   Maybe on the heels of the airshow can be a concert series -- potentially a large outdoor event featuring a high-drawing country star at a park or the fairgrounds, surrounded by smaller shows in the new performing arts center -- during the week. A Taste of Madras event could showcase our restaurants during the week as well. Car shows, other events at the park, the fairgrounds, maybe a skatepark event? Who knows? Then end the week with those 24 high school football teams coming to town.
   Something like that would leave us all ready for a long nap, and lots of businesses making big deposits.
   The Collage of Culture was an example of big event -- conceived of, organized and pulled off by local volunteers who had both talent and commitment -- that succeeded in Madras. It had a great run, killed by many small cuts and one large hit in the head (a collapsing economy). In its heyday, it took the talents and contributions of many and created a diverse event that the community took great pride in.
   Isn't it time we get back on the horse and start thinking big again?