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Sioux City, Tyson Events Center keeps NAIA women's tournament

SIOUX CITY -- With NAIA moving from two divisions to one in 2021 for both women's and men's basketball, the future of the NAIA national women's basketball championship tournament in Sioux City was in doubt.

Since 1998, Sioux City has hosted the NAIA D-II national tournament, the longest current active host for an NAIA championship event. So it was a no-brainer for Sioux City and Spectra, which manages the Tyson Events Center for the city, to put together a bid to host the NAIA women's tournament when it moves to one division starting in 2021.

Sioux City had some stiff competition for the event, mainly from Billings, Mont., which hosts the NAIA Division I women's basketball tournament.

On Thursday, Sioux City had its answer. At an afternoon press conference at the Tyson Events Center, Great Plains Athletic Director Corey Westra, the co-director of the NAIA D-II tournament, announced Sioux City won the bid to host the NAIA women's basketball championship through at least 2024.

"It's an exciting day in Sioux City. We are tremendously honored that we were selected as the ongoing host. People have wanted to know this news. Now we know. We are the women's host and we couldn't be more excited about it," Westra said. "The city of Sioux City, Erica Newton was instrumental in helping in her time here at Spectra in putting the bid forward along with city manager Bob Padmore, mayor Bob Scott, the city council and the entire delegation put our best foot forward to continue to be the host of the women's basketball tournament."

Sioux City was first awarded the D-II women's tournament in 1998 and was hosted at the Sioux City Auditorium. In 2004, the tournament moved to the Tyson Events Center, which has hosted the tournament since and will continue to do so in 2021-24.

"It has grown so much over the years here from 1998 to 2003 when we considered a 2,000-person crowd to be a tremendous accomplishment," Westra said. "Then we moved to the Tyson Events Center and played the national championship in front of 6,000 people. Ever since then, this tournament has become a staple on the calendar in Sioux City each and every March."

The announcement came one day after Women in Sports Day around the nation.

"This is a great day for Sioux City and the fact that the NAIA continues to trust us with this tournament is a testament to the sponsor, the media, the local community that supports these teams and the volunteers," co-tournament director Mike Skaggs said. "It's a great staff at the Tyson Events Center and they bend over backward to make sure the teams are taken care of."

The future site of the NAIA men's basketball championship tournament has yet to be announced. Sioux City put in a bid for the tournament but the NAIA wants to keep the women's and men's tournament at separate sites. Sioux Falls, S.D., and Kansas City are the two sites up for hosting the men's tournament.

"We kinda knew it was a little bit of a long shot and sitting in those meetings, they were going to be separate but we put it in a position that they could talk about it," Westra said. "It was fun to put the bid forward. The first and foremost goal was to get the women's tournament and we knew we had a good shot."

Besides the NAIA D-II women's basketball tournament, Sioux City has previously hosted the NAIA women's golf championship at Two Rivers, the NAIA baseball tournament at Lewis and Clark Park, the NAIA national wrestling tournament and the Tyson Events Center currently hosts the NAIA volleyball national tournament.

Even though Sioux City has hosted the NAIA women's D-II tournament since 1998, it has always been on two-year bids. The Tyson Events Center was given a four-year bid to host the NAIA women's tournament starting in 2021.

"Four years is great and we look forward to having it for four years and not having to do the paperwork as soon," Westra joked. "The reason it's four is to allow the one-format setup to get on the right foot and have a longer standing relationship."

The tournament brings plenty of visitors to the area. Westra said the full attendance is usually somewhere in between 28,000 to 38,000 people, depending on the matchups.

"The impact is amazing. Teams come in and with support staff and their fans," Westra said. "The gate revenue alone is high and then the hotels, the restaurants and the shopping, it's a huge impact."

There is a chance to the tournament format, though. Instead of 32 teams at the national tournament, there will be 16 at the final site. With the move to one division, 64 teams will qualify for the national tournament. The first two rounds will be played at 16 different sites. The final 16 teams will play at the Tyson Event Center.

Morningside or Briar Cliff had automatic entry into the D-II tournament and will still have automatic entry into the field of 64 but would have to make it through to the Sweet 16 to make it to the Tyson Events Center.

"They have the first rights to host the first round of 64 at their host locations," Westra said.

Great Plains Athletic Conference programs have been a mainstay late in the tournament year-in and year-out. Dakota Wesleyan won the national title last season and Northwestern and Morningside both have won the title. Some seasons, three of the four semifinal teams have been from the GPAC.

The Tyson Events Center will also get some improvements before the tournament starts in 2021. According to Enzo Carannate, the assistant general manager and director of marketing at the Tyson Events Center, the venue will get new scoreboards and new ribbon scoreboards by the start of the 2019-20 season for the Sioux City Musketeers.

"We are really excited to grow with it. In the past year, concession stands, ramps, the lighting have made it a better experience for fans and it will only go up from here," Carannante said. "We have other projects in the works that will enhance the experience. We want to make sure the fans and families and athletes get that first-class experience at the facility."

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Fun on the slopes
Cone Park named Iowa's top tourist attraction

SIOUX CITY -- Iowa's top tourist attraction in a metro area? This year, it's Sioux City's Cone Park.

The Iowa Tourism Bureau and the Travel Federation of Iowa bestowed the 2019 "outstanding attraction" honor on the all-seasons park Thursday. 

"It kind of reassures what we already knew about Cone Park -- that it's been a great thing for Sioux City," said Parks and Recreation Director Matt Salvatore, who accepted the award on behalf of the city.

The park at 3800 Line Drive boasts a 700-foot tubing hill, refrigerated 5,400-square-foot ice skating rink, fire pit and day lodge. In the summer months, the rink is converted to a splash pad. Visitors also have access to a two-mile trail loop.

For its second winter season, the park added a less steep tubing run for children. It's named Blue Bunny Hill for its corporate sponsor, Wells Enterprises, makers of Blue Bunny ice cream, the smaller hill. A lift, called a magic carpet, transports sledders to the top of each hill.

Snow Glow Tubing, an LED light show set to music, also is offered during some nighttime sessions this year.

With its own snow-making equipment, Cone Park can operate even when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate in the winter.

Salvorate said the park is popular not only within the community, but also draws visitors to Sioux City. 

Cone Park attracted more than 20,000 people during its first winter of operation, from mid-December 2017 to March 11, 2018. Salvatore said tubing sessions were sold out nearly every weekend the first season.

"We're probably selling out even more this year, than last year," he said Thursday. "We've seen the numbers continue to increase."

Thursday is the second time Cone Park has been recognized in the past year. In April, the park was listed as Iowa's entry in MSN's listing of the best new tourist attractions in each state. The MSN lifestyle story highlighted the park's "gamut of outdoor fun."

"We're excited and honored to get another feather in our cap," Salvatore said.

The Iowa Tourism Office and Travel Federation of Iowa presented 27 awards recognizing excellence in the industry at a ceremony Thursday in Altoona as part of the 2019 Iowa Tourism Conference.Dragoon Trace Nature Center near Mount Ayr was honored as the top outstanding attraction in a rural area.

The Stone Pier Summer Concert Series, held on the shores of Black Hawk Lake in Lake View, was named the outstanding rural event.

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Iowa legislature considers hand-held phone ban for drivers

DES MOINES -- Hand-held use of mobile phones while driving would be illegal under a proposal making its way through the Iowa Capitol.

A three-member Iowa Senate panel on Thursday approved the legislation, which builds on the 2017 law that made texting while driving an offense for which police could stop drivers.

“I think our efforts previously have failed and I think it’s time for stronger measures,” said Iowa Sen. Tim Kapucian, a Republican from Keystone who chairs the Senate’s transportation committee. “I think hands-free is probably the only way we’re going to solve this issue (of distracted driving), or at least pay more attention to it.”

There are 16 states that ban hand-held mobile phone use while driving.

The number of traffic crashes and deaths caused by drivers who were distracted by the use of a phone or other device dropped slightly in 2017, according to state transportation department data.

Distracted driver crashes involving phone or device use were down 2 percent, and deaths fell from 13 in 2016 to 10 in 2017.

“The intent of the Legislature (in 2017) was to send a signal,” said Sen. Zach Whiting, a Republican from Spirit Lake. “Maybe that signal was not received or heard strongly enough.”

Law enforcement officials have been calling for a hands-free law. They say they appreciate the primary offense measure, but that it is still difficult to enforce the law because it permits drivers to use their hands to operate their phones for things other than texting.

“We are strongly for (the hands-free law) and have been for years,” Susan Daemen, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Sheriffs' & Deputies' Association, said at Thursday’s subcommittee meeting. “We believe this will be more enforceable if we go to a hands-free (law).”

Rep. Ashley Hinson, a Republican from Marion who chairs the Iowa House transportation committee, said she is watching to see what happens to the Senate bill before taking any action in her chamber.

Kapucian said he does not yet know how the full Senate feels about the proposal. He noted opposition usually comes from legislators who are concerned that the law infringes on civil liberties.

“Some of them worry about the freedoms. And I agree that it’s a freedom we will infringe upon,” Kapucian said. “But like I said (in the subcommittee meeting), you and I all have our freedoms. But when we infringe on somebody else’s freedoms, that’s where it stops. And I think we’ve been at that point. ... It’s about safety.”