By Thomas Skernivitz
Ironically enough, one of the nation’s best destinations for warm-weather sports is smack in the middle of Northeast Ohio’s snow belt.
Harpersfield Township, near Geneva, is the home of the GaREAT Sports Complex. The nonprofit corporation, whose formal name is Geneva Area Recreational, Educational, Athletic Trust, opened in March 2009 and has completed three of four construction phases.
When the fourth phase, an indoor swimming complex, is finished later this year, the entire complex will span more than 450,000 square feet. The 175-acre campus is located at the intersection of Interstate 90 and state Route 534.
The homepage of GaREAT’s Web site singles out nine sports — baseball, basketball, football, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, softball, track and field, and volleyball. It makes no difference that five of those sports are typically of the outdoor variety; they can be played almost 365 days a year, rain, shine … or blizzard.
“Take soccer, for example. Soccer is huge in this area,” Dave Smalley, GaREAT’s director of operations, says. “Cleveland is one of the most competitive areas in the country when it comes to the high-end travel and club soccer, but what we don’t have is a lot of these places where kids who want to play soccer 12 months a year can rent space to keep their skills sharp.
“We have a huge demand for that, especially when you look at the winters we have here.”
GaREAT’s phase 3, which was completed in January, features the country’s only eight-lane, 300-meter synthetic indoor track. The 240,000-square-foot complex includes a 70,000-square-foot synthetic turf field on which soccer, football, lacrosse, baseball, and softball can be played. Adjacent stands can seat up to 5,000 fans, perfect for local, state, regional, and national events.
Phase 2, an outdoor stadium with a 79,000-square-foot synthetic turf field, opened last fall. Accommodating up to 5,500 fans, some of whom sit in loges, the complex includes an eight-lane, 400-meter synthetic track that circles a synthetic turf area big enough for a 120-by-70-yard soccer field.
Now a year old, the phase 1 fields and courts building consists of 12 volleyball courts, six basketball courts, and nine tennis courts. The indoor surface of the facility is also conducive to gymnastics, wrestling, badminton, and several other sports.
“What we’re trying to do here is basically drive home that we’re multidimensional,” Smalley says. “We’re not dictated by a certain season or certain weather. We want to be able to provide opportunities over time that can yield to multiple sports.”
The GaREAT Sports Complex is privately financed by Ron Clutter, the president of Geneva-based Nordic Air, a manufacturer of air conditioning, heating, and filtration equipment for heavy industry.
“Ron was born and raised in Geneva and plans to die here,” Smalley says. “He got involved (with GaREAT) after seeing how schools are running out of money to support sports programs.
“Take something like football, which has such a proud tradition in Ohio. Most of the towns, especially in this area, won’t approve levies to build stadiums. And Ron said he wouldn’t approve them either, not when (stadiums) are used four or five times a year. So he was looking at what he could do about that.”
Despite Clutter’s strong ties to his hometown, the GaREAT complex is not the pseudo-home of the Geneva Eagles sports teams.
“It’s not for the local schools. Ron’s into regionalism,” Smalley says.
As for hosting events unrelated to athletics, Smalley says “no corporate function is too big.” Interested parties can contact Director of Food Service Lisa Beacom at email@example.com.
For more information: gareat.org
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