Host Families And
A Unique Flavor
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
While the teams of college-aged girls playing in the NAIA Women's Golf National Championship at Link Hills Country Club have taken the spotlight for the past week, dozens of workers and volunteers have been laboring together behind the scenes to keep the event running smoothly.
Their efforts garnered plenty of praise, despite a consensus of complaints about the bugs and the rainy weather earlier in the week.
Tammy Kinser, tourism director of the Greene County Partnership, said that more than 500 hours of volunteer work have gone into making the event a success.
In exchange, the tournament has given the community a big boost in business, with restaurants reporting being "slammed" with patrons, Kinser said.
While the NAIA Fall Preview Tournament, last fall's precursor to this week's tournament, had an estimated $100,000 economic impact here, the Partnership is expecting that this week's national championship will bring in more than $300,000 -- and top the originally anticipated total because of larger crowds and longer stays.
VOLUNTEERS AND HOSTS
As part of the effort to welcome the coaches, officials, teams and their families to the community, volunteers served as host families, starters, spotters, gofers and everything in-between.
"They wanted to feel like big fish in a small pond," Kinser said of the tournament attendees.
She feels confident that everyone involved locally succeeded in giving the players, coaches and NAIA officials that feeling, with many benefits to the local community.
"They're going to Mr. Golf, and that's a really great thing as far as local business," Kinser said.
She reported that three local hotels were "booked to the max," with Hampton Inn acting as the host hotel.
"The course, the (Link Hills) club has definitely benefited from this event as well," Kinser said.
The Partnership hopes to see future benefits as well.
"Because of our relationship with NAIA now, we've got -- like they say -- our foot in the door," Kinser said.
Local plans are being made to bid for the NAIA 2013 baseball tournament to take place in Greene County, Kinser said.
The 25 teams had come to Greeneville from a total of 15 countries -- plus the United States and Canada -- with large delegations from Sweden and Germany, and competitors from as far away as Brazil, Argentina, Slovenia, Tanzania, Ecuador, South Africa, and several other countries.
Knowing that many of the players and their coaches and families would be coming to Greene County from very distant points, the Partnership and local volunteers went all out to make each person feel warmly welcomed, and as much at home as possible.
Tournament officials said Friday that they were pleased by the efforts of the community.
"We've never had anything in the seven years that I've been involved like this," said Danny Randolf, president of the Coaches Association and coach for the team from Bethel University in Minnesota.
Karen Exon, the tournament committee chairman of the 2011 NAIA Women's National Golf Championship, completed the preliminary check on the location in February and found the course to have "all the makings for a very good national championship women's golf tournament."
She was also pleased by the quick response to problems as they arose.
"There's always a lot more loose details and unknown things for the host in the first year," she said. "It'll run a whole lot smoother next year, but it ran fine this year."
Kinser said she shared Exon's opinion, stating that an event can always see improvements. "You can always have more community involvement, I think," she said.
Among the most popular of the volunteer efforts were the Hospitality Tent -- where teams could load up on free snacks and drinks during the tournament -- and the host families, who gave the teams a personal connection to the community.
Courtney and Amy Hutcherson, members of Link Hills Country Club, helped gather most of the donations for the hospitality tent.
Christine Huss, who serves on the GCP's Trails Committee and volunteered for the event, spent most of her time under the tent.
"I just talk to the girls, pep them up," she said.
Also volunteering under the tent was Carrol Lynham, who said she felt that all the volunteers, many of whom are members of Link Hills or involved with the Greeneville Department of Parks and Recreation, were looking for an opportunity to give back to a deserving community.
"The girls told me they've never been treated so good," she said.
HOST FAMILY CONCEPT
Special treatment of all kinds came in abundance from the host families, many of whom bought their team a meal or gave personal recommendations on restaurants.
Each team had an assigned host family, in addition to a host family per every two individual players, for a total of 27 host families.
The team from Ashford University, Ohio, had Tom Gregory, of Greeneville, as host.
Seated next to the team's alternate, Felicia Scott, on Friday, Gregory's enthusiasm was evident as he drew Scott into the conversation.
"We've had a great time, haven't we?" he asked. "It's a great experience. All these girls are super girls."
Many host families met their team as they arrived, attended the opening banquet with them, and have been available to them to answer questions or give directions throughout the week.
'HIGHLIGHT OF OUR TRIP'
"The highlight of our trip has been the hospitality of the host people and especially our host family," said Chipper Ferrell, coach for the team from Minot State University, in North Dakota.
Joy and John McGuffin served as their hosts and held a special barbecue for the team at their home, in addition to buying them each a CD of Greeneville's own The Band Perry, and helping them get free or discounted tickets to Dollywood.
"When you go somewhere in a strange town and you don't know anybody, it's nice to have someone that will be there for you," John McGuffin said. "We've just kind of adopted them."
CANADIANS LIKE MAIN STREET
Michelle and Mike Decock had to drive nine hours and cross the Canadian border to see their daughter, Justine, play in the tournament for Lindenwood University of St. Louis.
They talked Friday about how welcomed they felt by the community.
"We enjoyed actually just walking down Main Street and reading about the history of the area," Michelle Decock said. "I wish we could have been here longer."
Should the opportunity arise, they said, the Decocks hope to return.
They were not the only international visitors, however. David Jones came from just outside of Chester, England, to see his daughter compete in the tournament.
"The whole place is absolutely fantastic. The people can't do enough for you," he said.
"The quality of life just seems perfect. [All the helpers] should be proud of their community."