February 2015

Oklahoma gets groups in the sporting spirit

by Jeff Heilman

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    Boathouse District, Oklahoma City

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    Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City

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Few destinations do a kick-off event better than the Sooner State, at the meeting venue, in hospitality—and on the gridiron and other arenas of athletic endeavor.

Sports fandom is ingrained in Oklahoman culture, especially at the collegiate level. Originally coined over a century ago to describe wrestling contests between the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, the “Bedlam Series,” sponsored by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, was expanded to include football, track and then all sports between the two rivals.

Athleticism figured prominently in Oklahoma’s founding. At high noon on April 22, 1889, upon the firing of rifles, cannons and other signals, settlers on horseback, in wagons and on foot surged into the then unassigned territory in what is known as the “Oklahoma Land Run.” The “Sooners” nickname refers to individuals including deputy marshals, land surveyors and railroad employees who jumped ahead of the official starting “whistle” to claim their land parcels.

Over time, “Sooner” became synonymous with winning, or an “energetic individual who travels ahead of the human procession.” That same spirit animates the group experience in Oklahoma, where a diverse roster of sporting venues and activities are ready starters for winning agendas.

Oklahoma City

From the immensely popular Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA and a host of minor-league baseball teams, to horse racing, rowing and more, Oklahoma’s welcoming state capital—one of National Geographic Traveler’s top 20 destinations to visit in 2015—offers an all-star lineup of group choices.

“We have so many great things in regards to sports, with something for everyone to see and participate in,” says Sue Hollenbeck, director of sports business for the Oklahoma City CVB. “Along with the Thunder, the city is home to the OKC Barons of the American Hockey League, OKC Energy of USL Pro Soccer and OKC Redhawks, AAA affiliate of the L.A. Dodgers. Plus, we are home to two national sports governing bodies, USA Softball and USA Canoe/Kayak. These and other organizations and events, combined with our people, quality venues and hospitality, make Oklahoma City special for sports groups.”

Seating just over 18,200 people for Thunder basketball with varying configurations for other sports and concerts, Chesapeake Energy Arena offers private space for gatherings of up to 200-plus guests at the Courtside Club.

Home to USA Softball and the National Softball Hall of Fame and Museum, the ASA Hall of Fame Complex includes OGE Energy Field. Nearing completion on a $20 million renovation that will include meeting space, the venue’s OGE Energy Field is host of the NCAA Women’s College World Series through 2020.

The city’s Olympian muscle also includes the Boathouse District. Located on the Oklahoma River, this world-class urban aquatic venue includes the OKC National High Performance Center, where America’s top rowing and canoe/kayak athletes are training for 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. For groups, Riversport Adventures offers thrilling activities, including the world’s tallest sky trail and teambuilding competitions both on land and on the river. In October, the city broke ground on a new whitewater rafting and kayak center.

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