Editor’s Note: Randy Vaughn and Faye Gooding, with Recreation Now and Hampton County Citizens for Active Restoration, contributed to this report.
Recreation impacts not just the local and state economy, but also the health and wellbeing of our citizens. It is also a current, hot-button political issue in Hampton County, but for now, it is a dream deferred.
One of the major issues in the recent Hampton County Democratic Primary, and the upcoming General Election, is recreation – or rather the lack of it – in Hampton County, said Randy Vaughn, a founding member of concerned citizens groups Recreation Now and Hampton County Citizens for Active Restoration (HCCAR).
“I believe the voters want the recreation complex they have already paid for and approved [in a 2012 Capital Projects Sales Tax (CPST) referendum],” said Vaughn. “Perhaps the SouthernCarolina Alliance might consider the economic impact that a voter-approved recreation complex would have on Hampton County. I personally would love to dialog with the Alliance if they are interested in promoting recreation.”
Vaughn and other community leaders feel that the many benefits of recreation have largely been overlooked by county officials, as well as the full economic potential of having a local, multi-use recreation complex.
Hampton County has one county-owned recreation facility – a crumbling former school gym built in 1919 that has been described as “horrible” and unsafe by concerned citizens. The majority of recreational opportunities that do exist are provided by the towns and volunteers. To compound this situation, after months of questioning from Recreation Now and HCCAR, Hampton County officials recently admitted in a public meeting that they had missed millions of CPST funds that could have gone to construct a countywide recreation complex as promised to the voters in 2012.
According to the National Recreation and Park Association’s (NRPA) 2019 report, recreation generated $218 billion in economic activity and 1.3 million jobs in the United States that year. The impact locally could be realized by hospitality outlets, especially through weekend tournaments that attract teams from our extended region, said Vaughn, and the I-95 corridor provides an excellent route to attract teams as far away as Georgia and North Carolina.
Vaughn added that he recently visited the Moncks Corner Recreation Complex, which is spread over several acres in downtown Moncks Corner. It has a four-field layout with a separate walking track, playground, soccer, and football fields, and facilitators are in the process of building a Miracle League baseball field specifically for handicapped children. The total cost for that facility was around $7 million for the basic facility, said Monks Corner Recreation Director Becky Ellison, and she indicated they net about $5,000 per weekend tournament, which often attracts teams from Savannah, Jasper County, Hampton County, Summerville, Colleton County, and Berkeley County.
The ACE Recreation Complex in Colleton County is managed by Chris Myers and has been hosting travel baseball tournaments for nine years. Myers indicated that they hold weekend tournaments that have hosted as many as 64 teams, which the average tournament hosting between 25 and 30 teams. The concessions average about $170,000 a year gross, with close to 70 percent profit. Facility rentals and gate fees this year will break $200,000 by the end of this month (which is the end of their fiscal year). The travel organizations supply and pay for umpires and balls, Colleton County simply provides the facility.
“Now, translate 64 baseball teams and their families and friends into gas, restaurant, and hotel accommodations,” said Vaughn. “Using Colleton’s figures, I think we could safely estimate a four-field complex in Hampton County could yield $50,000 per year in concessions and $66,000 in rental/facility usage. Those figures are based on one-third of the activity of the ACE complex. If partnership agreements were reached with other entities such as the school district or towns, the profit return on the investment may be greater.”
But it is not all about dollars and cents, adds Vaughn, it’s also about health and quality of life. Rural areas of the South, like Hampton County, are often among the worst in the nation for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease or stroke.
“Many people do not consider the economic benefit recreation has on the wellness and health benefits of the individual,” said Vaughn. “Health insurance and medical costs can be lowered through a healthier lifestyle. In addition, focused recreational activities improve one’s mental health. In a very rural area like Hampton County, where there are limited, to begin with, a recreational complex offering various activities cannot help but improve healthy lifestyles.”
The NRPA study indicates this critical information on the quality-of-life benefits of recreation: “Eighty-two percent of corporate executives responding to a 2022 Area Development survey rated quality-of-life features as an important factor when choosing a location for a headquarters, factory or another company facility.”
“This is a key point our county leaders need to consider along with their focus on the airport and arts programs,” said Vaughn. “Recreation is a key component of a healthy community. This is vital when recreation was noted by the people as very important while airport improvement and arts facilities were not mentioned in the 2012 CPST Ordinance.”
Beyond the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, a recreation facility is a safe place where families can relax and fellowship with others in the community, notes Vaughn.
“The opportunity to play together as a family can only strengthen those bonds that are so important these days. The availability of a recreation outlet serves the needs of children who do not have those family bonds. According to a report by the NRPA, adolescent individuals. who don’t participate in afterschool activities are 27 percent more likely to be arrested. Drug use is 49 percent more likely among this group. There are so many reasons why Hampton County needs a recreation complex and continuing to stonewall is hurting our community.”
Faye Gooding, another founding member of Recreation Now and HCCAR, adds that, since the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor recreation has been an especially popular and effective form of “therapy” for many Americans.
“We know team sports build communities, wellness and individual discipline – no research required,” Gooding stated. “We also know that sports and recreation attract families and businesses. A little strategic focus could have gone a long way in Hampton County.”
Former CEO weighs in
Faye Gooding is a retired CEO of a major Hampton County industry, Le Creuset, and after a career spent doing business around the world from her company’s North American headquarters knows in Hampton County, she what potential commercial and industrial prospects are looking for.
“During my years at Le Creuset, when recruiting three questions were consistent from potential candidates: ‘Tell me about your school system, recreation for my children and myself, and local healthcare’,” said Gooding. “Consistently! Those who were the areas of focus for potential employees who were considering relocation. Actions taken by county leadership appeared completely opposed to supporting the first two.”
Sports are a tremendous economic driver in communities where it becomes a strategic focus, added Gooding.
“Why are Hampton County leaders not only missing this opportunity but appear determined to oppose this economic and social opportunity to improve the lives of our children and residents of all ages? Lack of funds is an excuse we are all tired of hearing because this deliberately administration spent funds dedicated to a sports complex plus all county reserves on something else.In June of 2018, there was still $2.356 million in cash in the CPST fund and $5 million-plus in CPST funds received since. Lack of funds is and was no excuse for the lack of focus on sports for our children. Inflation is not an excuse for the lack of focus on recreation. The money was there. That’s a fact.”
Youth sports tourism is currently a $19.4 billion industry that has shown consistent growth year over year despite economic downturns, making it an ideal catalyst for economic development, states Gooding.
According to a recent report in the Outdoor Industry Association, “The Outdoor Recreation Economy,” the outdoor recreation industry grew by roughly five percent from 2005 to 2011 alone and is now responsible for 6.1 million American jobs, $646 billion in spending each year, $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue, and $39.7 billion in state/local tax revenue
“During and after the 2008 recession, more than 140 million Americans made outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives, proving it with their wallets by putting $646 billion of their hard-earned dollars right back into the economy,” said Gooding.
“Outdoor recreation is a growing and diverse economic super sector that is a vital cornerstone of successful communities that cannot be ignored. Most importantly, outdoor recreation is no longer a ‘nice to have.’ It is now a ‘must have’ as leaders across the country recognizing the undeniable economic, social and health benefits or outdoor recreation.”
“Cities and towns across the country are tapping into the business of outdoor recreation, and for good reason. They recognize that outdoor recreation and open spaces are key ingredients to healthy communities, contribute to a high quality of life, and most importantly, attract and sustain businesses and families.”
But like Vaugh, Gooding points out that this will never be just a dollar and cents issue. She cited a May 11, 2022, story in The Hampton County Guardian: “Wave of Hampton County overdoses sparks major drug sweep.”
“It is common knowledge that outdoor recreation is a huge industry and that sports, especially team sports, are a preventative treatment for alcohol, drug and social/mental disorders,” said Gooding. “Team sports build communities and provide opportunities for children who do not feel ‘safe’ at home, can provide hours of reprieve and healing, and can provide an opportunity for positive mentoring.”
“Research by the National Institute of Health and other reputable agencies proves that team sports and recreation provide a high percentage impact on the prevention of alcohol, drug and mental/social disorders,” she states. “Why has our current administration and council during years since CPSTII was approved so opposed to a focus on team sports when a strategic focus could have prevented the necessity for a major law drug sweep in our county?”
Exercise and physical activity are also gaining attention as adjuvant treatments for substance use disorders as well as mental disorders, especially depression and anxiety disorders. Exercise gives the addict a strong physical and mental system to cope with the difficulties and struggles of recovery.
“Participation in sports reduces the risk of overall illicit drug use, but particularly during high school, suggesting that this may be a critical period to reduce or prevent the use of drugs through sport.”
“Sports participation can play an important and positive role in the health and development of children and youth. One area that has recently been receiving greater attention is the role that sports participation might play in preventing during and alcohol use among youth.”
National Library of Medicine
Exercise and Physical Activity in the Therapy of Substance Use Disorders
Outdoor Recreation Roundtable