Nebraska may be well-known as the land of Cornhusker football, but there are many more sporting opportunities beyond the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s lineup of thrilling college athletics.
Whether it’s a canoeing excursion in Omaha, a Thoroughbred horse race in Grand Island, a game of footgolf in Kearney or a rodeo in North Platte, it’s a snap for planners to add a sports element to Nebraska meetings.
Omaha, host of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, offers a variety of sporting events that groups can attend year-round, including Omaha Lancers hockey and Omaha Storm Chasers Minor League Baseball games.
“Also, if your group is in town during the month of June, chances are you can catch the NCAA Men’s College World Series, a long tradition in Omaha since 1950,” said Mark Rath, director of sales for Visit Omaha.
Beyond Omaha’s spectator sports are several active venues, such as the city’s Paths of Discovery trail system, which welcomes hikers, bikers and cross-country skiers in winter.
“Each twist, each turn winds through a different part of the city,” Rath said. “Groups will have more than 85 miles of paved, interconnected trails to explore and create their own adventure.”
Attendees can also tackle the on-site climbing wall at Outdoor Venture Center at University of Nebraska Omaha.
Waterborne area pursuits include excursions with Driftwood Paddle Adventures, which offers morning yoga paddleboard classes and sunset paddleboard tours, and canoeing Fontenelle Forest’s great marsh.
“There is a hidden marsh inside the forest that is perfect for group canoeing activities,” Rath said. “During this outing, groups will have an opportunity to connect with nature, and each other, while working together to paddle the canoe in the same direction. This is a peaceful way for attendees to experience the beauty and magic of the wetlands.”
Located 45 minutes south of Omaha in Nebraska City is the 260-acre Arbor Day Farm, which is home to Lied Lodge & Conference Center and Tree Adventure.
Tree Adventure is considered a great place for groups seeking fun outdoor activities.
“Hike miles of trails, climb to the top of a 50-foot treehouse and pick apples in the orchard,” said Theresa Brown, director of sales at Lied Lodge & Conference Center. “And golfers will appreciate the three nearby courses, including ArborLinks Golf Course, designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer.”
Home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including the Big Ten Conference’s Cornhusker football team, as well as Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln offers a variety of collegiate athletic events.
According to Derek Feyerherm, director of sales and operations for the Lincoln CVB, attendees can enjoy watching NCAA Division I and Division II athletics “at their best,” including Cornhusker basketball at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nebraska’s capital city is also home to semi-professional sports organizations that offer group tickets, including the Lincoln Saltdogs baseball team and the Lincoln Stars junior hockey team.
Stars games are played at the Ice Box, located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovation Campus, and groups can rent party suites. Saltdogs games are played at Haymarket Park.
“These games provide excellent opportunities for groups, including having a picnic at the park during the game, having personalized LED messages on the outfield wall, and throwing out the first pitch,” Feyerherm said.
Active groups can check out the Outdoor Adventures Center, located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Here, they will find a variety of teambuilding challenges, individualized rock climbing and other activities designed to build camaraderie among attendees.
When meeting in Grand Island, groups can find unique sporting options, including an outing to Heartland Public Shooting Park.
This 420-acre venue features skeet and trap ranges, a 10-station sporting clay range as well as complete rifle and pistol ranges.
“Groups can shoot for leisure or arrange a shooting match between convention attendees,” said Tricia Beem, assistant director for the Grand Island CVB. “This is one of the top shooting parks in the Midwest.”
Small groups can arrange activities via Crane Trust Excursions, including exciting fat-tire biking and kayaking outings, guided wildlife photography experiences and bird-watching safaris.
An on-the-sidelines experience awaits groups at Fonner Park, which has hosted Thoroughbred horse racing since 1954.
“Groups can lunch in the clubhouse, learn how to read a racing program, place a bet, get a welcome from the track announcer, a listing in the racing program, and if desired, the group can sponsor a race that then allows for a photo with the horse and jockey in the winner’s circle,” Beem said.
Discounted tickets/group seating is available for Nebraska Danger indoor football games at Heartland Events Center. According to Beem, recognition from the game announcer and a meet-and-greet with players can both be arranged for groups.
Groups meeting in Kearney can check out Kearney Park & Recreation, which offers rental of a park facility, including the Harmon Park Activity Center.
“There are also outdoor pavilions for those groups that would like to use volleyball courts or a ball diamond for a recreational activity,” said Sarah Focke, tourism and convention sales manager for the Kearney Visitors Bureau.
Another reliable sports option in Kearney is Team Concepts, which facilitates teambuilding, leadership workshops and other activities such as geocaching, golf, team laser tag and a low-ropes course.
“The options provided can be tailored to each group and can last a couple hours each,” Focke said.
Also in Kearney is the Tri-City Storm hockey team, which plays from September through April at the Viaero Center.
“Luxury hockey suites are available to accommodate any size group,” Focke said.
And at Elks Country Golf Club, groups can play an evening game of glow-in-the-dark golf or a round of footgolf.
A round of traditional golf can be arranged for groups meeting in Norfolk.
“Norfolk Country Club is one of the finest and most challenging 18-hole golf courses in the state,” said Mike Fuehrer, sports development manager for Norfolk Area Sports Council. “Two additional 18-hole golf courses have meeting rooms and food-and-beverage options. There are also three nine-hole courses in the county.”
Groups interested in a waterborne activity can book a guided kayak outing on the Elkhorn River via North Fork Outfitting.
According to Fuehrer, the company provides transportation to and from local hotels, whether it’s an hour, half-day or full-day venture.
“The Elkhorn River runs along a large portion of the 321-mile Cowboy Trail,” he said. “In addition to leisure kayak or canoe rides, a pedal-and-paddle competition is held in early June where cyclists bike 18 miles from Norfolk to Meadow Grove and then paddle downstream back to Norfolk. This event has numerous rave reviews.”
North Platte is an excellent location for outdoor recreation, according to Muriel Clark, assistant director for North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau.
River adventures here include kayaking, canoeing and tubing. Planners can either arrange an adventure on their own or contact a local outfitter like Dusty Trails.
For motorsports enthusiasts there is the Lincoln County Raceway, which hosts stock car races most Saturdays from April through September, and baseball fans can visit the historic Bill Wood Field, where American Legion games are played.
“And what would a Western Nebraska community be without rodeo?” Clark asked. “North Platte is home to the Buffalo Bill Rodeo, founded by Buffalo Bill himself as the first spectator rodeo in 1882. Held annually the third week in June, the Buffalo Bill Rodeo is the cornerstone of the NEBRASKAland DAYS celebration.” m