When USA Ultimate and Dr. Tom Crawford decided to showcase the first US Open Championship for this week in Colorado Springs, he thought the Air Force Academy was a safe venue.
Afterall, it’s the US Air Force; its sprawling campus is perched high and mighty at the foot of the mountains.
That was before the monumental Waldo Canyon fire exploded. The fire, thought to be started by lightning, threatened large portions of this community of 600,000. It burned up 300+ homes, forcing evacuation of the academy, and sending Crawford and USAU scrambling for a plan B.
“It was downright scary,” said Crawford. “The entire community felt afraid of what was happening.”
Already mobilized because of a series of fires along Colorado’s front range of the Rocky Mountains, firefighters and community members started scrambling to stay ahead of the blaze. But for days it burned out of control, threatening multiple parts of the city and putting the entire event in jeopardy.
Finally, by July 4th, the fireworks of the Waldo Canyon fire were 80% contained.
“This is the greatest outpouring of community support I’ve ever seen, “ said David Eaker, public information officer for Great Basin Incident Management. “The people of Colorado Springs went above and beyond, from bringing us cookies to setting up firefighter fund raisers.
When asked how the fire could now affect play of club teams who came from as far away as Medellin (Kie) and Bogota (Aerosoul), Colombia, Eaker said, “The fire’s a done deal. We seeded for rain and the rain came—it shouldn’t be much of an issue.”
Thanks to Crawford and company’s plan B, the reset should not be much of an issue either; although, minor league baseball tickets were not the same as the canceled fireworks show at the academy. Dense smoke is still hanging in the air.
“We are really fortunate that it’s worked out for the Open to be played at the Fountain Valley School here in Colorado Springs,” said Crawford.
With the U.S. Olympic Committee and other sports governing bodies headquartered here, there’s still an expectation this inaugural event will draw the attention of a wider sports audience.
Andy Lee, USAU’s Marketing and Communications Director, explains it this way, “Even though we are involved in restructuring the club format, we know we need a showcase event.”
“Sports like tennis and golf have a major event, like their U.S. Open events,” Lee said. “We want to put this out to bid, and let select cities like Colorado Springs show off what a fantastic sport ultimate is.”
Representatives from ACES (Association of Chief Executives of Sports) and other VIP are invited to the fields to see the elite clubs compete. For cities and groups considering hosting next year’s US Open, a private school in the suburbs may be a better indicator of future venues than a national military university.
So far, the bidding by has not begun. With Atlanta, Austin, Toronto, Denver, Raleigh, Washington DC, Seattle, San Diego, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Montreal, Boston, San Francisco, and other communities from Michigan and North Carolina fielding tournament teams, the community and team competition remains hot.
But for now, just having the whole tournament not go up in flames is an ultimate win.
Feature photo from defense.gov