Friday, July 20, 2001

Town grows into training-camp role

By Stephenie Steitzer
Enquirer Contributor

        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — The Cincinnati Bengals will again call this quaint college town in the heart of Bluegrass country home as they begin their annual training camp today.

        While officials, residents and businesses in the Scott County city of 18,000 were enthusiastic about the camp when it moved to the Georgetown College campus in 1997, the novelty of hosting the NFL team has all but faded, in no small part because of the team's losing record.

[photo] Everette L. Varney, mayor of Georgetown, Ky., says his town has benefited from being the home of the Cincinnati Bengals' annual training camp, even though that hasn't meant a windfall for merchants.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        “At the beginning, certainly having an NFL team training in our little town had a big impact,” Mayor Everette L. Varney said. “If they were more successful ... of course that would make them more popular here.”

        The last time the Bengals had a winning season was 1990, when they finished 9-7. In each of the last two seasons, the team has won only four games.

        Despite the Bengals' record, the state-of-the-art training camp has had a significant impact on the community, which is at the crossroads of Interstate 75 and I-64.

        Probably the most significant benefit was to Georgetown College, home of the 2000 NAIA national championship football team.

        The size of the campus doubled after the construction of the training complex, which includes the 5,000-seat Rawlings Stadium, a conference center for instruction and meals, two full-sized practice fields, apartments for coaches and players and executive guest townhouses for owner Mike Brown and his family.

   When: Saturday through Aug. 24.
   Where: Georgetown College, Georgetown, Ky.
   Admission: Bengals workouts are free to the public, but there is a $5 charge per car and $25 charge per bus for parking.
   Closing time: Camp is open from 6-10 p.m. for night practices, but morning practices on those days are closed to the public.
   Special events: Intrasquad scrimmage July 28. Fireworks are tentatively scheduled for Aug. 2 after the night practice.
   More information:
        Former Georgetown College Tigers football player Reggie Thomas, 32, who now works as a human resources employee for the 7,000-plus employee Toyota plant in town, said the school was using the camp to recruit athletes before it was even constructed.

        Mr. Thomas said it is a big lure to prospects, especially since the old field, nicknamed “The Rock” was in bad shape.

        “When I go there, it's a totally different atmosphere,” said Mr. Thomas, who visits the camp despite being a Washington Redskins fan.

        He was eating lunch at Fava's Restaurant, a longtime business in Georgetown. A sign on the door advertised a “Bengal burger” — a quarter-pound patty with Swiss cheese and mushroom sauce.

        While Georgetown resident Andrew Tackett, 23, wasn't eating the burger, he said he supports the team.

        “I've always been a Bengals fan, even though they aren't doing very well,” Mr. Tackett said.

        Bengals banners hang from street posts and signs in several businesses advertise a raffle to win free Bengals tickets.

        Georgetown's senior assistant athletic director Buck Baker said the camp draws about 15,000 tourists to the town each year, with 6,500 attending the intersquad scrimmage. Baker said that number is down from the camp's opening year, which he estimated as having between 5,000 and 10,000 more attendees.

        Local business owners agreed that the camp's impact was felt mostly in its first year.

        Wyatt's Antiques owner Don Wyatt said he has not noticed an increase in revenue during the camp since 1997.

        “It was something new, but (business) seems like it has trickled off,” Mr. Wyatt said.

        Reno's Roadhouse owner Mike Caffrey said he doesn't notice an increase in business while the camp is in session, but added that an occasional Bengal will take the “Bubba Challenge.”

        Anyone who can eat a 64-ounce steak, half a potato, half a salad and a dinner roll in 45 minutes or less eats for free. Mr. Caffrey said more than a dozen players and coaches tried in 1998, with only one coach meeting the challenge.

        Recently, however, Mr. Caffrey said he hasn't seen many of the players or coaches, but he hopes that will change this year. Certain restaurants are now permitted to serve beer and mixed drinks in the city that has been dry for many years, despite being founded by Elijah Craig, the inventor of bourbon whiskey.

        Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan said players practice all day and don't have many opportunities to leave the campus.

        Despite the players' lack of presence around town, everyone seems satisfied with the arrangement.

        Mr. Brennan said team officials realized after 29 seasons of training at Wilmington College, it was time to work on cultivating a Kentucky fan base.

        “The chance to increase our presence in Northern and central Kentucky was important to us,” he said.

        Stacey Varney, director of the campus training and conference center, said camp is an exciting time for the community.

        “I think the town as a whole has adopted the team,” she said.

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- Town grows into training-camp role