Imagine throwing a three-day party for one thousand people, and then having to tell two hundred of them that they couldn't stay?
That's what faced Ryan Culhane and the organizing committee of the OFSAA Girls A & AA Soccer Championships last weekend when a communication breakdown between soccer districts, Tourism North Bay, and local chain hotels led to an accommodation shortage for the June 2-4 event and athletes without beds.
Rooms that were thought to have been secured months, and in some cases, years in advance, suddenly were unblocked and left open to be rented. With the city bursting at the seams with visitors from the soccer tournament, a gymnastics event, and other smaller conventions, there was a sudden shortage of rooms for the thousands who had come to North Bay.
Swift action from Culhane (the tournament convenor), Melinda Fry (City of North Bay, Parks Recreation and Leisure Services Department), and Tanya Bedard (City of North Bay, Economic Development Officer) managed to secure a few rooms for the displaced athletes, coaches, and drivers.
Some were accommodated inside the city, mostly by chance cancellations.
One team was graciously put up in a vacant Nipissing University student residence.
Even a conversation about housing players at the air base took place.
In fact, things were so dire that there was some consideration to having some of the teams billeted at the homes of the organizers and other local coaches.
Despite those efforts, with the tournament beginning the next morning, eight teams were forced to stay outside of the city as far way as Huntsville, Sturgeon Falls, and various surrounding areas, forcing them to bus into the city to compete. The schedule of games for the tournament had to be altered to allow time for each squad to commute.
There were murmurs, however briefly, from OFSAA that the event would have to be moved to Sudbury, or possibly Ottawa, to accommodate the athletes properly.
Culhane spent hours on the phone trying to understand how, what was once the least of his worries, was now a full-blown fiasco. Culhane and his team were frantic to find places for participants to stay, all the while fielding calls from school representatives, and trying to keep the tournament afloat while explaining to OFSAA officials just what had gone wrong.
That is a question Culhane is still searching for an answer to, even days after the tournament's successful conclusion. What happened?
The term used to describe this weekend's hotel shortage was "a perfect storm," by Jake Lacourse, President of the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce. Lacourse is also involved with Tourism North Bay, and holds a management position at the Clarion Hotel.
Lacourse explained, "It's an interesting nut to crack, this situation. I don't want to call it a blip, due to the fact that teams stayed out of the district. The tournament was a success, but due to circumstances, from a tourism standpoint, a number of people did not get to fully experience North Bay."
"From my perspective, it is unacceptable what has gone on," said Culhane, reflecting back on this past week's events.
Culhane, who has run, or been involved in, a series of successful tournaments, sees an opportunity for reform in sports tourism. "There were some pretty big mistakes made, resulting in this situation. I still haven't received an explanation. It's so disappointing. What do I do? What do I do moving forward?", wonders Culhane.
In the end, the OFSAA executive was, according to Culhane, pleased that the tournament was held successfully, despite less than ideal conditions.
City Hall has offered financial aid to help defray costs caused by the extra transportation resulting from the displacement of teams. An investigation into the situation, and what can be done, is expected this week a source told BayToday. Answers could follow that meeting.
Culhane notes that the event could not have gone forward without the concerted efforts of the entire organizing committee, and help from city agencies, most notably Fry and Bedard. "Those two went to bat for this tournament," expressed Culhane.
Considering this event has been on the books since January 2014, "It's not right to have to tell teams that they have to stay an hour-and-a-half away for a provincial soccer championship," declared Culhane.
All in all, the tournament was a success. North Bayites came together to make things work.
It's perhaps fitting that Culhane sports a shaved head look, because he would have had no hair left after this past week anyway.
BayToday will be updating this story.