The North Carolina State Fair is less than two months away: the rides, the dunk tanks, the icy snow cones, the food and fanfare and fun—the fried Snickers bars. For those who just couldn’t wait (or perhaps just couldn’t “weight”), there was the Active Families Day at the Orange County SportsPlex this past Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
At this event, there were also rides (tours of a local firetruck or a children’s inflatable ‘bouncy house’), perhaps the state’s largest dunk tank, and ice enough for a thousand snow cones—just no fried candy bars, though Italian sausage at the fair had nothing on the smells of Joe Van Gogh Coffee and healthy food wafting from the visiting food truck.
Membership and marketing director Robin Zwilling said the SportsPlex facility was smiling on Saturday.
“It’s great to see it all happening—it’s a good energy to have filling the SportsPlex, and that’s our goal,” she said. “It’s a family-oriented place, so the more families we get in here enjoying all of the activities, the happier the place seems.”
Located at 101 Meadowlands Drive in Hillsborough, the 90,000 square foot Orange County SportsPlex (“www.trianglesportsplex.com”) is one of the state’s largest recreational facilities and one of only a few in theUS offering an ice arena, aquatics center, and a fitness center under one roof.
Activities on Saturday included chair massage, swimming, water safety talk, the kids’ bounce house obstacle course, free skating lessons and public skating for kids, street hockey, activities, and crafts. The event also showcased the temporary waiving of membership initiation fees and registration for the Hillsborough Aquatic Club Swim Team, which was holding an open house during the day’s festivities.
SportsPlex staff agreed that it was the highest numbers ever for the event.
“This has been a great turnout,” Zwilling said. “This is their fourth year doing it, and I think it’s the biggest turnout.”
“It’s definitely the biggest group I’ve had for skating lessons at an Active Families Day,” SportsPlex figure skating director Jamye Gaster said. “Hopefully, the kids leave saying, ‘I want to sign up (for more lessons).’”
Zwilling credited social media and new programs for greater numbers.
“I’m not sure what was done before I got here last September,” she said, “but I do know that social media is a great way to reach people, and the more noise you make on social media the more awareness it brings to your business. I think that’s been one of the main things.”
“Plus, I think it may be because we have so many new programs,” Zwilling added. “We’ve got the new home school swim academy, and that’s brought attention, along with today’s Hillsborough Swim Team open house. Really, there are just so many reasons to be coming here today.”
Five-year old Ben Estrom and his younger brother Zach, 3, squared off in the street hockey rink set up in the SportsPlex parking lot.
“Ben did about a year of hockey lessons with Coach Ken DiOrio,” the boys’ father Mike Estrom said. “They do swimming lessons, and we just signed up—we wanted to come today when there’s free initiation.”
For Nathan Powell and younger sister Elizabeth Powell, every activity was necessarily followed by a return to the food truck.
“We got in a swim, and we went to the food truck,” said Jackie Powell, Elizabeth and Nathan’s mother.
Fresh out of the bouncy house, Nathan said he’d try skating.
“I’ve ice skated before,” he said proudly, “and maybe we can go back to the food trucks.”
Zwilling said the SportsPlex is seeing more and more interest from surrounding areas outside of Hillsborough proper.
“We got a lot of people here today from Chapel Hill, from Mebane, and from Durham,” she said. “I just had someone sign up who lives in Virginia who own a local business, and they’re down here all the time. Hillsborough’s growing, and we’re growing with it.”
After the summer, Zwilling said the Active Families Day kicks off another academic season that will see more major changes.
“We are looking to build a field house,” she said. “We’re aiming to break ground on that (next year). It will have an indoor soccer field, an indoor track, and a basketball court.”
“This would be 34,000-35,000 square feet, and that’s what we’d need for the indoor turf,” Orange County SportsPlex executive director and general manager John Stock said in a 2014 interview. “That playing surface would have a three-lane walking track running around it.”
Over the past year, the SportsPlex has already upgrades, including new ultraviolet (antibacterial) protection on all of its pools, a renovation to its lobby, expansion to its group fitness area, and improvements in its ice rink facility.
Zwilling said she hope that the remainder of 2015 into 2016 just keeps the momentum going.
“I’ve only been here a year, but I’d like to see the SportsPlex build such a reputation that everyone wants to be here,” she said. “I want it to be a place where families want to come on the weekends. I want it to have that personality.”
For those awaiting fried candy bars, however, there’s always the State Fair next month.