Spring-training baseball will soon be upon us. But why not skip big-league rehearsals and satisfy your sports appetite with the world of amateur athletics? Since it launched in 1997, the 200-acre, nine-venue Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex has been the site of the national headquarters of the Amateur Athletes Union (AAU). The organization hosts championship tournaments, competitions and clinics, many of which take place just a stone's throw from the Mouse House. These events bring thousands of youngsters (and their families) to Central Florida every year, and each one is, no doubt, thrilled at the prospect of going to Disney World -- probably even more than the prospect of winning the Super Bowl.
Although summer is generally the busiest time at the facility, there are several notable happenings taking place this spring. Martial-arts competitors from around the globe -- including U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches -- will rally at the Wide World of Sports Complex March 31-April 2 for the Millennium Martial Arts Festival. There's an opening-day clinic at 6 p.m.; competition starts at 10 a.m. April 1.
For hoops fans, the month of April boasts not one but two b-ball tournaments. Come April 6, the Boys' Basketball Spring Classic No. 1 tips off three days of dribbling, passing and shooting. And beginning April 28, the Girls' Basketball Spring Fling gets under way for two more days of amateur thrills.
Frustrated ice-hockey fans can find rough action at the In-Line Hockey Tournament that hits the pavement May 26-May 29.
One thing Disney can't do is build an ocean, although the wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon was a valiant effort. So catch the Freestyle Scholastic/National Juniors Championships (Surfing) April 15-17 at New Smyrna Beach. There, sun-washed, salt-water-drenched riders will work the surf in hopes of grabbing the title.
But ultimately the folks at Disney realize that a true sport fiend cannot live on amateur athletics alone. For those who need that pro-sports fix, Wide World of Sports also hosts Atlanta Braves spring training baseball. The Braves' third season at the facility gets under way Feb. 18, with the 15-game home schedule, opening March 2. The Orlando Rays minor-league baseball team, the defending Southern league champs, debuts April 14-Aug. 31 at the Disney baseball stadium. Holding court April 29-May 7, the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships, a primer for the formidable French Open Grand Slam, draws some big-name players. And Olympic sprinters Marion Jones and Gail Devers will be hand throughout the season, training for the 2000 games.
It's a wide variety of options, each one a chance to witness the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat -- Disney-style, of course.
For a schedule of events, call (407) 363-6600; or visit www.disneysports.com