PIGEON FORGE, Tennessee (Feb. 11, 2019)—Competitive sports continues to prove their worth in Pigeon Forge (Tennessee) as nine gymnasts, two coaches and three chaperones will make a 3,000-plus-mile journey—one way—from Iceland to compete in the Make It Count Gymnastics Classic (Feb. 16-18) at the LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge.
More than 1,000 gymnasts from 11 states will take to the floor of the LeConte Center’s 100,500-square-foot clear-span space. The three-day event is expected to attract 5,500 spectators, athletes and coaches. None will have traveled as far as the Icelandic team.
This marks the sixth time the Make It Count Gymnastics Classic has taken place at the LeConte Center, and the first time the Maryville, Tennessee-based organization has hosted an international team.
“This trip was two years in the making,” said Make It Count’s Tracy Counts. “Our coaches became friends with the Icelandic coaches at a 2017 Pennsylvania gymnastics camp, and we encouraged them to come to Pigeon Forge for this event. Next thing we know, the girls began fund-raising—including baking thousands of cookies for sale—to make the trip happen.” The athletes’ first introduction to the Great Smoky Mountains was the lyrics and music of local favorite Dolly Parton.
“Iceland’s team listened to a lot of Dolly’s music on their flight from Pennsylvania to Iceland in anticipation of making this trip to Pigeon Forge,” Counts added.
In addition to any awards the team earns on the competition floor, the Icelandic team’s coaches knew the trip to Pigeon Forge would gift the girls by broadening their horizons, and allowing them to experience different things and places while getting to know people with different backgrounds. “They would also discover that all people have a lot in common regardless of where they live,” said Sesselja Jarvela.
The 232,599-square-foot LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge was designed for many types of activities, many of which feature competitive sports. In addition to gymnastics, the venue hosts cheerleading, volleyball and basketball events. In its first five years of operation, the LeConte Center has hosted more than 150 events and driven an additional $175 million in attendee spending in the city.
“In addition to providing a great travel experience and lifelong memories for this Icelandic team, their trip to Pigeon Forge continues to demonstrate the LeConte Center’s commitment to its mission, and that includes introducing new people to our family-friendly vacation destination,” said Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism. “Hopefully, the team members will become Pigeon Forge ambassadors for us at home in Iceland and in the many other destinations they visit.”
Both the LeConte Center and the Ripken Experience Pigeon Forge were intended to serve as catalysts for bringing new first-time visitors to the city. During Ripken’s nine-month 2018 season, the facility hosted 925 teams from 25 states, Canada and Puerto Rico, with some athletes, coaches and their families traveling from as far away as California, New York, and Texas.
Tournament participants, coaches, and their families contribute to the local economy through overnight lodging stays, ticket purchases to area attractions, restaurant dining and other purchases.