Villages can cheer on home team 3 ways

VHS forward Adrian McCray (11) reaches for the ball in the fourth quarter of the championship game at the 2017 Battle at The Villages tournament.  Battle at The Villages is one of three high school sporting events taking place in The Villages during the month of December.

For residents and visitors of The Villages, the holiday season brings with it good tidings and good cheer. And this month, there will be a stocking’s worth of exciting high school sports action, too.

The Villages High School is set to host a trifecta of sporting events in December, beginning with the Sumter County Showcase basketball quadruple header on Saturday, before concluding with the fifth annual Battle at The Villages boys basketball tournament from Dec. 27-30. Local football fans can get their fix on Dec. 15, as the state’s top gridiron stars descend upon The Villages for the 64th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Football Classic at The H.G. Morse Range.

“This time of year is really big for us,” said VHS athletics director and head football coach, Richard Pettus. “It’s great to be able to showcase our school, our facilities, our athletics department and our community to everyone who attends these events. We consider our school, both academically and athletically, to be one of the top in the state — and this is a terrific opportunity for us to show that.”

Along with a busy winter sports cycle at VHS that features both boys and girls basketball and soccer, as well as wrestling and girls weight lifting, the marquee events bring even more exposure to the community and its high school.

Nearly 3,000 are expected to attend the three events this month, all of which are funded in part through the Sumter County Tourism Development Council.

A grant of $55,100 was approved unanimously by the five-member council to help facilitate the Battle at The Villages — and its Sumter County Showcase subsidiary event — while a grant for $16,000 was approved to help offset costs to host the FACA All-Star Football Classic for the fifth consecutive December.

“Whenever you invest money in our youth, you feel good about knowing it’s going to the right spot,” said Sumter County Tourism Development Council chairman, Doug Gilpin. “People might not always equate high school sports with The Villages — so whenever you can make that link, it really juices things up and makes for an exciting time.

“And then to see the results that we have and seeing how much economic development has come from supporting these events, it’s very satisfying that the tourist development dollars are turning into something more.”

The financial dividends include more than 560 anticipated hotel room nights locally for the events and an estimated local economic impact upward of $175,000 from just the Battle at The Villages alone — as the four-day tournament has brought some of the country’s top basketball teams and players to VHS each of the last five years.

“We’re excited to take part in the Battle at The Villages,” said Gary Nellans, president of the Buffalo Booster Club and a resident of the Village of Fernandina. “The Battle and the Sumter County Showcase brings in some of the best players not only from our area, but from the entire country. So you can’t help but be excited about watching some really good basketball.”

The 64th annual FACA All-Star Football Classic will be held in The Villages for the sixth time in the event’s history. The matchup splits the state’s premier high school football players into North and South squads, respectively, with the event estimated to take in more than $37,000 for the Buffalo Scholarship Fund.

“To have a good community, you have to have a well-rounded community,” Gilpin said. “With the lion’s share of residents of Sumter County being retirees, I feel it’s important we recognize our youth in their activities of sportsmanship and fellowship — and that opportunity shines through in The Villages.”

One of the ways residents of The Villages are doing just that is through the donation of their time, as they help ensure the events run smoothly behind-the-scenes.

More than 200 volunteers are expected to lend a helping hand at the three events, including Village of Largo seasonal resident, Bill Scheen.

“It’s a great opportunity for not only the athletes to showcase themselves, but for the community to showcase itself, too,” Scheen said. “All it takes is for you to get up and go ask how you can help — and that costs nothing.”

Tickets for all three events will be available at the gate on their respective dates, while advance ticket purchases for the FACA All-Star Football Classic can be made at the school during normal operating hours.

“This is all something that goes back to conversations we had with the Morse family and The Villages years ago,” Pettus said. “We’ve always been about finding ways to bring more people to our great community, and we’ve obviously taken the athletics avenue to do our part in those conversations. These are big-time events in a big-time community, and we’re honored to host them once again this year.”

Cody Hills is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5286, or cody.hills@thevillagesmedia.com.