Idaho Falls is for Winners
Discovering a city that's a total score for sports
Swoosh! Nothing but net. For a second, I was back in our driveway, watching my son, Andy, sink a three-pointer from our front porch. But the buzzer signaling the end of the two-day tournament brought me back to reality.
"I want to come," my wife, Natalie, had said a few months earlier. After some research, I had chosen Idaho Falls as the host city for the youth basketball tournament I coordinate every year. At first, I was surprised that she wanted to come. Natalie stopped traveling to tournaments soon after Andy went to college. Now, she had two reasons she insisted she should join me: this was the first year Andy was coaching our grandson, Kyle, and this was Andy's first away tournament.
Idaho Falls had been on my basketball tournament bucket list for many years. Magazines and Google Images had shown me how scenic Eastern Idaho's largest city was, but it wasn't just the allure of the Rocky Mountains and Snake River. It was the whole package: hotels, venues, menus and more.
Planning the tournament
I've been orchestrating league tournaments long enough to know that 10-year-old boys don't belong in romantic B&Bs. So, I reserved blocks of rooms at larger hotels that came with kid-friendly continental breakfasts, suites for the families, and of course, the requisite swimming pools. Finding accommodations in Idaho Falls wasn't difficult. There are more than a dozen options, and with the help of the Idaho Falls CVB, securing reasonable rates was easy. But a tournament doesn't take place at a hotel. It needs a venueâ€”or in our case, two.
189. I did the math again, and yes, I had almost 200 kids signed up for the tournament. Some of the 19 teams, including my son's, would be traveling from out of state, so I wanted to make sure the tournament was worth the trip. Finding one sufficient venue that has the desired dates available is hard enough. So the idea of finding two conveniently located venues with the same dates available and enough basketball courts was intimidating at best.
Fortunately, Idaho Falls is home to Apple Athletic Club, City of Idaho Falls Recreation Center, several high schools with rentable facilities, and a YMCA. Altogether, I had more than enough courts to host an efficient two-day tournament. With all the venue options in town, the dates I needed were not only available; they were affordable.
"Think of all the attractions the teams can enjoy between games with all the money the league will be saving, "Natalie said when she saw my budget breakdown. She had already done her research and was keen to check out the Arts Museum of Eastern Idaho. Ok, maybe she had three reasons to join me. I could easily envision her convincing Andy to let her take Kyle to museums and art galleries between games, or taking me to the artisans' collective boutique she was adamant about visiting. "Honey, aren't you going to watch Kyle play and Andy coach?"
Scouting attractions & restaurants
For Natalie and me, choosing Idaho Falls for the tournament was a no-brainer. But when it came to the new coach, Andy, I had some convincing to do.
"C'mon, Dad, is there even anything to do in Idaho Falls?" Andy said, whining like a 10-year-old when he saw the tournament announcement. I laughed. My son was just like me. He viewed tournamentsâ€”whether he was playing in them or coaching in themâ€”as mini working vacations. Therefore, it was important to him that he and his team members' families would be traveling to a worthwhile destination.
I could see that question coming from a mile away and my answer lasted a good 10 minutes. What is there to do in Idaho Falls? For starters, there is Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park, with close-up animal encounters including penguin feedings. And, something told me that the city's proximity to Kelly Canyon Ski Resort would mean some of the teams would tack another day onto the end of the trip to take advantage of the slopes.
Closer to city limits, I envisioned the teams letting off steam at Funland or getting competitive in a game of mini golf, bowling or paintball. For a small city, Idaho Falls has plenty to offer 10-year-oldsâ€”and as my wife kindly reminded me, their families who support them on the road.
"But how are we going to feed 100 mini basketball players?" Andy asked. "Factor in their parents and siblings and that's a lot of food." Between the venues' refreshment facilities and vending areas, no one attending my tournament would go hungry.
On top of the on-site, bleacher-front dining, I knew Idaho Falls was blessed in the restaurant department. I was impressed to read that there are plenty of places to eat within a one-mile radius of all the sports venue options. "We'll include tournament information packets with an Idaho Falls guide," I replied. It'll feature everything from fine-dining establishments to Mexican restaurants and a popular local pizza joint, which would be awarding the tournament's champions with a pizza party.
Idaho Falls scores a win
Unfortunately, the final swoosh of the tournament didn't come from Kyle's team. Natalie had even picked up a lucky Buddha figurine on her Idaho Falls shopping endeavors, but despite the frantic belly rubs, he didn't come through. With the Oregon team scoring two points at the last second, overtime was no longer an option. Trophies were handed out and pictures were taken. At first, Kyle and his teammates were disappointed at their loss, and you could see them reliving the final seconds of the game in their little heads. Then I reminded them that placing second in such a big tournament was actually quite an accomplishment.
"I know, Grandpa," Kyle acknowledged, "but I was really looking forward to a pizza party just for us." I didn't blame him. We had heard fantastic things about this pizza and a party is a party. I was about to try and console him when my own son interrupted me.
"Don't worry, Kyle," said Andy with a wink. "We'll be back next year." Without hesitation, Natalie added, "Your father's right. I think we should all convince your grandpa to plan next year's tournament in Idaho Falls so we can come back for that pizza."
It won't take any convincing next time.
Plan your league's next tournament in Idaho Falls with the Sports Finder guide.
Rome: Military Genius and Mighty Machines
Museum of Idaho