Bowling Green loses girls’ state hoops tournament to NKU, while Owensboro keeps state softball

Bowling Green’s future with high school state championships got a lot thinner Tuesday.

The KHSAA voted in its Board of Control meeting to award the girls’ state basketball tournament – hosted at Western Kentucky University since 2001 – to Northern Kentucky’s The Bank of Kentucky Center for 2016-17.

The governing body also voted to keep the state softball tournament at Owensboro’s Jack C. Fisher Park from 2015-18.

Bowling Green was the only other city to enter bids for both events.

“We’re very disappointed with girls’ basketball,” said Amy Cardwell, sports sales director of the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We knew softball would be a long shot to move it out of a place it’s been for a number of years. Sometimes things have to leave to appreciate where they’ve been and what they had.

“We will look for other things to fill those dates and that time. There’s never a shortage of people wanting to be in Bowling Green, and we’ll work very hard to fill the hotel rooms.”

WKU has hosted the girls’ state basketball tournament at E.A. Diddle Arena 20 times since 1985, including every year since 2001. The 2015 state tournament will be the last under that contract at Diddle Arena, which seats 7,326.

WKU has eight of the top nine total girls’ state tournament attendance records, as well as six of the top seven for a single session – only one of which surpasses 6,000 fans.

The event has been sponsored by Houchens Industries, which was prepared to stay on as title sponsor for the next bidding cycle, said Jeff Younglove, WKU’s director of campus and community events.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Younglove said. “We felt like we put in a competitive bid – no costs to KHSAA with Houchens’ financial support. We’re disappointed, but we wish them luck. We’ll make a run at it when it comes open. … They evidently wanted to try another direction.”

Cardwell previously told the Daily News the girls’ state basketball tournament usually welcomes 30,000 to 35,000 visitors to the community. She “conservatively” projected the local economic boost from the tournament at $75 per visitor per day.

Cardwell said Tuesday that Houchens’ sponsorship package for girls’ basketball has typically been $50,000.

“Houchens has been a phenomenal sponsor,” she said. “Very loyal to the KHSAA. They stepped up when no one ever had. They set a precedent that nobody had ever set before. Like I said, I feel like they needed to try something new. I don’t know why. Things were very good in Bowling Green.

“No matter what, I want this event to be a positive event for the girls involved, always.”

NKU and The Bank of the Kentucky Center, which opened in 2008 and seats 9,400, have never hosted the girls’ state tournament.

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Daily News. The Board of Control was scheduled to address other matters Tuesday after the state site selections.

Bowling Green hoped to host the state softball tournament at Michael O. Buchanon Park, which has been upgraded in recent years to include eight tournament-sized softball fields and wireless Internet.

Owensboro has hosted the state softball tournament 11 times since the event began in 1995 – nine at Fisher Park and two at Panther Creek Park. It’s hosted each years since 2008.

Hopkinsville and Jeffersontown are the only cities other than Owensboro to host state softball.

Bowling Green hosts the state football championships – partnered with Russell Athletic – at WKU’s Houchens-Smith Stadium, but that contract expires after the 2014 season.

BG also has the boys’ and girls’ state golf championships – partnered with Leachman Buick GMC Cadillac – at Bowling Green Country Club through 2020. The city relinquished the cheerleading championships to Lexington this year because of scheduling conflicts, Cardwell said.

— Follow prep sports writer Zach Greenwell on Twitter at twitter.com/zach_greenwell or visit bgdailynews.com.

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