By Deb Gau
MARSHALL - For volleyball players, it's a unique challenge, a chance to face some of the toughest teams in the upper Midwest. But that's only half the story of the Molten Southwest Minnesota Challenge volleyball tournament. Area residents say the event also makes Marshall a destination and brings in visiting sports fans.
"(Marshall) is very fortunate to be able to host it," said Doug Goodmund of Marshall Community Services. "I think this has become a showcase event."
This weekend marks the ninth year the Southwest Minnesota Challenge has been held in Marshall. On Friday and Saturday, a total of 32 volleyball teams will compete, including athletes from area schools, from schools around Minnesota, and from as far away as North Dakota.
Matches will be held at both the Marshall High School and Southwest State University.
The efforts of organizers like Marshall volleyball coach Dan Westby, a strong base of community supporters and coordination between Marshall Public Schools and SMSU have helped grow the Southwest Minnesota Challenge tournament, said Bruce Remme, activities director for Marshall Public Schools. But another major factor was the size and location of available gymnasium space.
"The proximity of the facilities is one of the things we hear from participants," Remme said. The campuses of SMSU and MHS are in easy walking distance from each other.
In addition, Remme and Goodmund said, the level of hospitality both at the tournament and in the Marshall community has helped build a good reputation for the Southwest Minnesota Challenge.
"It's certainly a well-attended event," which draws in athletes' families and fans, Remme said.
In turn, those visitors can be good for Marshall area businesses like restaurants, hotels and stores. Competing teams and their supporters can often fill up local hotels, Remme said.
"This is maybe a sample of what (the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission) has been working on," Goodmund said. SMASC-supported projects like construction of the Schwan Regional Amateur Sports Center are aimed at attracting more large sporting events to the area.
The first round of the Southwest Minnesota Challenge begins at 5 p.m. Friday, at both Marshall High School and the SMSU Recreation/Athletic Facility. Tournament admission allows spectators to watch matches at both venues, Remme said.