VIDEO: Rusty Buchanan On Sports Tourism In Brevard

By  //  September 26, 2013

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Space Coast Office of Tourism report

ABOVE VIDEO: Rusty Buchanan talks about sports tourism in Brevard County and the status of the Washington Nationals after yesterday’s meeting of the Space Coast Office of Tourism. Buchanan serves as the executive director of Space Coast Sports Promotions, which manages and promotes athletic events in the county. He is also the First Vice President of the Amateur Athletic Union.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Rusty Buchanan’s career has been marked by storied successes. And yet, he’s the first to acknowledge that the goals he set for himself weren’t met in the way he expected.

Rusty Buchanan serves as  Executive Director of Space Coast Sports Promotions, which manages and promotes athletic events in Brevard County. Buchanan is also  the First Vice President of the Amateur Athletic Union. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

Rusty Buchanan serves as Executive Director of Space Coast Sports Promotions, which manages and promotes athletic events in Brevard County. Buchanan is also the First Vice President of the Amateur Athletic Union. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

Had he crafted the script, the athlete might have focused on baseball instead of running, and possibly missed the opportunity to live in Brevard County. Instead, Buchanan’s track and cross country background led to a high-powered corporate career that groomed him to be one of the Space Coast’s biggest cheerleaders.

Buchanan now serves as executive director of Space Coast Sports Promotions, which manages and promotes athletic events in the county.

RUSTY BUCHANAN, far right, ran the high hurdles at North Carolina State University and finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference during his freshman year. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

RUSTY BUCHANAN, far right, ran the high hurdles at North Carolina State University and finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference during his freshman year. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

It might not be where he thought he’d end up. Growing up in Charlotte, N.C., Buchanan was an avid athlete. His choices had been football and baseball, but what he recalls as a political issue would change that.

After logging a stellar performance for his baseball team during his eighth grade year, Buchanan was passed over for the all-star team. Despite leading the league in home runs and stolen bases, he stayed home while the all-star spot went to the catcher – who also was the coach’s son.

He won every race his freshman year and continued on to qualify for the state meet for the next three years. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

He won every race his freshman year and continued on to qualify for the state meet for the next three years. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

He was crushed at the time, but now calls the experience a life lesson: “Not all in life is about who’s best and what’s fair,” he said. “Politics is always near the surface.”

That philosophical spin would help later in life, but the immediate impact was his decision to pursue a different sport. He started running hurdles for the high school track team and met with instant success.

He won every race his freshman year and continued on to qualify for the state meet for the next three years. Even still, the top title eluded him. During his junior and senior years, he won every race but one, and that was the state championship.

ACCOMPLISHED ATHLETE

His performance did earn him a college scholarship to North Carolina State University. He continued in the high hurdles and finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference during his freshman year.

RUSTY BUCHANAN excelled at sports and academics and graduated from North Carolina State University with a communications degree in 1983. Sports broadcasting seemed a good way to combine both interests, so he began working for the NBC affiliate in Charlotte. Buchanan’s athletic background led to a high-powered corporate career that groomed him to be one of the Space Coast’s biggest cheerleaders. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

RUSTY BUCHANAN excelled at sports and academics and graduated from North Carolina State University with a communications degree in 1983. Sports broadcasting seemed a good way to combine both interests, so he began working for the NBC affiliate in Charlotte. Buchanan’s athletic background led to a high-powered corporate career that groomed him to be one of the Space Coast’s biggest cheerleaders. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Then the competition intensified, and other schools signed talented runners. Rather than become discouraged, Buchanan added another life lesson and focused on teamwork, sportsmanship and goal setting.

“You don’t get any better if you don’t work any harder,” he said.

He kept at sports and academics and graduated with a communications degree in 1983. Sports broadcasting seemed a good way to combine both interests, so he began working for the NBC affiliate in Charlotte.

Dr. Jerry Punch, NASCAR pit analyst and play-by-play commentator for ABC and ESPN. (espn.com image)

Dr. Jerry Punch, NASCAR pit analyst and play-by-play commentator for ABC and ESPN. (espn.com image)

He remembers one assignment that he accepted with trepidation. Despite living in stock car racing country, he’d never been to a race. So working the Charlotte 600 stock car race didn’t seem like the best move. Not to worry, his supervisors assured him, he’d be paired with a knowledgeable broadcaster to offer color commentary.

Buchanan was given a short introduction to read – which, by the way, he can recite to this day – but he wasn’t counting on the sheer power and thunderous noise of 40 stock cars rounding a bend and bearing down on him as he faced the camera. He shook in surprise, missed the opening, and endured plenty of ribbing.

In a detail that seemed like a cruel trick at the time – but turned out to be a brush with greatness – he found out the color commentator selected to work with him was a local doctor. Buchanan feared he’d be left with awkward silences, but the man alongside him was Dr. Jerry Punch, who went on to become a NASCAR pit analyst and play-by-play commentator for ABC and ESPN.

EXTENSIVE PROMOTIONAL SKILL & EXPERIENCE

He still participated in track and cross-country through coaching. And he got the state championship that had remained tantalizingly out of reach in high school – not as an athlete, but as a coach.

Space Coast Sports Promotions hosted one of the largest amateur athletic events in the history of amateur games, the 1994 Junior Olympic Games. That event brought more than 10,500 athletes to the Space Coast.

Space Coast Sports Promotions hosted one of the largest amateur athletic events in the history of amateur games, the 1994 Junior Olympic Games. That event brought more than 10,500 athletes to the Space Coast.

He also coached college track at his alma mater and fulfilled another dream in an unexpected way. Buchanan had hoped to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to an American boycott of the event.

Years later as a college coach, he worked with several athletes who went on to the Olympic games. He remembers one in particular, a Dominican Republic student who attended NC State but struggled and was on the verge of leaving school. Buchanan worked to help the student turn around his studies and continue his training.

In addition to success on the track, the student went on to become an international investment banker in New York.

“You take a little bit of pride in that you had something to do with making that happen,” he said.

AS AN OFFICIAL of the Amateur Athletic Union, Rusty Buchanan traveled to Afghanistan on a U.S. Goodwill Tour to assist the Afghan government establish sports programs for the embattled country. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

AS AN OFFICIAL of the Amateur Athletic Union, Rusty Buchanan traveled to Afghanistan on a U.S. Goodwill Tour to assist the Afghan government establish sports programs for the embattled country. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Meanwhile, Buchanan was acquiring extensive promotional experience working for Adidas running shoes, and then a smaller specialty shoe company. After he cashed out of that smaller company, he was ready for a new challenge.

In the early ’90s, Florida passed a local option tax on hotel rooms designed to promote tourism, including sports-related events. St. Petersburg was trying to attract a baseball team and Jacksonville was going for an NFL franchise, but Buchanan saw a missed opportunity. “Communities were collecting tax, but none were doing much to attract non-professional sports,” he said.

Brevard County began recruiting him to work with the county Tourism Development Council to promote the county as a location for non-professional events. Buchanan agreed to put together a coalition and try for a year.

Working with county heavy hitters including Tom Wasdin, Wendy Ellis and Giles Malone, Buchanan met with success recruiting youth sports. Starting with Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournaments, the Space Coast Sports Commission has continued to focus on amateur sports.

10,500 ATHLETES COME TO THE SPACE COAST

Because of the efforts of him and his team, the county has hosted the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games, Amateur Athletic Union National Championships for boys’, girls’, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and surfing. Other events include the Special Olympics, Florida Firefighter Games, International Law Enforcement Games and Space Coast Retired Military Golf Classic.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Rusty Buchanan, with Jim Hickey, principal of Viera High School and Gary Shiffrin, former principal of Merritt Island High School. Buchanan’s Space Coast Sports Promotions presents the High School “Breakfast of Champions” every year that spotlights the best young athletes in Brevard. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

LEFT TO RIGHT: Rusty Buchanan, with Jim Hickey, principal of Viera High School and Gary Shiffrin, former principal of Merritt Island High School. Buchanan’s Space Coast Sports Promotions presents the High School “Breakfast of Champions” every year that spotlights the best young athletes in Brevard. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

Space Coast Sports Promotions hosted one of the largest amateur athletic events in the history of amateur games, the 1994 Junior Olympic Games. That event brought more than 10,500 athletes to the Space Coast.

The benefits go beyond the athletes who visit. There are parents and fans, which attend and possibly decide to spend another vacation in the area in the future.

“We want people to stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our shops,” Buchanan said. The total impact of sports on Brevard County for 2001 reached an estimated $41 million, according to the company.

“We want people to stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our shops,” Buchanan said. The total impact of sports on Brevard County for 2001 reached an estimated $41 million, according to the company.

The ideal combination for Brevard, Buchanan said: A major league baseball team, minor league club, and a youth component.

If the Washington Nationals choose to leave Brevard, he would work on enlisting state help to attract another major league team. The current governor remains pro-baseball, he said, remembering one of his early lessons: Politics are never far from the surface.

‘ATHLETICS IN MY BLOOD’

His Olympic dreams also came full circle. In 2009, Buchanan got a call from the committee putting on the Vancouver winter games.

OLYMPIC MEDAL: Rusty Buchanan with American athletes during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, where he was included in the participation medal awards given to all athletes. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

OLYMPIC MEDAL: Rusty Buchanan with American athletes during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, where he was included in the participation medal awards given to all athletes. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

They needed people to escort athletes to events and other functions throughout the day. On the last day of the games, he was included in the participation medal awards given to all athletes. The medal was pewter, but an official Olympic medal nonetheless.

“I finally got to be part of any Olympic games, but not as an athlete – as an administrator,” he said.

Lessons learned in sports about working hard and staying committed have paid off outside the arena. The company continues to look for ways to add to the economic impact that sports have on the area.

Developments that will enhance the efforts: the possibility of adding softball fields in the Cocoa Beach area; restructuring an advisory group that will include one person representing each sport that could result in events; working with Florida Tech on possibly using football and practice facilities; and coordinating increased athletic offerings at Eastern Florida State College (formerly Brevard Community College).

While he’s no longer the competitor, he remains in the game.

“Athletics is just in my blood,” he said.


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