IMG Academy, Benderson Park awarded NCAA championships

Academy also awarded men's and women's outdoor track in 2016-17

Bradenton HeraldDecember 12, 2013 

IMG Academy Stadium will play host to its first Kickoff Classic at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when IMG tackles West Palm Beach Lakes Community at the southern Manatee facility. PROVIDED PHOTO


MANATEE -- IMG Academy and Nathan Benderson Park have landed NCAA championship events in track and rowing, putting the Bradenton area in the national spotlight for years to come.

IMG Academy, 5500 34th St. W., was awarded the Division II men's and women's track and field championships for 2016 and 2017, in partnership with Tampa University. The events will be held May 26-28, 2016, and May 25-27, 2017.

"We look forward to hosting our first NCAA Championship event at IMG Academy, where we recently launched a track and field program housed in our new stadium. We feel a key element in our selection is the focus we place on creating a great student-athlete experience," said Gary Pluchino, vice president of IMG Performance. "We are also looking forward to hosting a national event that will attract athletes, coaches and fans from all over the country to the Bradenton area where they will be greeted by a welcoming community, great weather and countless attractions."

IMG's new 5,000-seat stadium can be expanded to 10,000 seats and features an eight-lane, 400-meter track and adjacent training areas for jumps and throws.

Nathan Benderson Park will stage another championship event after the NCAA awarded the park the 2018 Division I-III women's rowing championship.

This will be Benderson

Park's first NCAA championship and is a partnership with University of Central Florida, Sarasota County Sports Commission and Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates -- the nonprofit that operates the rowing center. More than 1,000 rowers will participate in the event. The NCAA announced the results of 82 of its 89 championships Wednesday afternoon for the 2014-18 seasons. The rowing championships will be held May 25-27, 2018.

"We are extremely excited about the success of Nathan Benderson Park's bid as well as IMG's successful bid," said Nicole Rissler, director of sports with Visit Sarasota County. "It's just another fantastic event that will be coming to the Sarasota-Bradenton area and help drive economic impact."

Benderson Park, 2500 N. Honore Ave. in University Park, is evolving into a championship event destination between the NCAA championships, World Rowing Championships plus Olympic-qualifying pentathlon events coming in 2014-16.

Bradenton-Sarasota struck out on some of its NCAA bids. The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl will stay in Salem, Va., a 20th year after IMG Academy was named a finalist. The Division III football championship was last held for three years in Bradenton at Hawkins Stadium in 1990-92 before it moved to Salem in 1993.

IMG Academy also lost out on the Division II baseball, which was awarded to the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

But the success of several other championship bids helps brand Sarasota-Bradenton as championship-caliber cities.

"These events will continue to showcase the Bradenton area in the global market that will drive new business to the area," said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Hosting NCAA events at IMG and Nathan Benderson Park will no doubt showcase our region as a sports-performance hub that is unique and geographically appealing to that market."

Rissler said the accomplishment is in large part thanks to private investment at the area's sport venues.

"I think across the board, the venues we are developing from Nathan Benderson Park to IMG Academy, to Premier Sports Campus, we're not just building good facilities, we're building world-class, great facilities," Rissler said. "You're starting to see the fruits of our labor getting national and international events wanting to come here."

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