The Canceled American Legion World Series Will Cost Shelby Millions

The Canceled American Legion World Series Will Cost Shelby Millions

Thousands of baseball fans flock to western North Carolina each August. After all, the American Legion World Series was supposed to happen in Shelby, at Veterans Field in Keeter Stadium. The series would’ve occurred for the 10th straight year. But COVID-19 changed that. Why should you care?

The World Series Brought Money to the Shelby Area

The American Legion made the decision in early April to cancel the 2020 world series. The event became one more in the many sporting events canceled in North Carolina thanks to COVID-19. However, the American Legion’s decision impacted Shelby’s economy by up to $8 million in losses.

If you don’t know American Legion baseball, let us acquaint you. This amateur athletic program, which incorporates veterans nationwide, mentors baseball players from 13 to 19 years in competitive baseball competitions. As a nonprofit, the American Legion also advocates for veterans’ rights at grass-roots and federal levels.

The American Legion has long chosen Shelby for its world series.

Since 2011, Shelby has held the honor of being the annual tournament’s permanent site. Then in 2018, The American Legion reinforced that decision by adding “in perpetuity” to the contract. This document, drawn up between The American Legion, Cleveland County ALWS Inc. and Shelby automatically renews every five years.

The tournament has regularly set records for ticket sales since Shelby became its permanent site. For each each event from 2016 through 2018, the tournament sold more than 119,000 tickets. That streak included a record-setting 128,157 tickets in 2018. This reliable benefit to Shelby’s economy won’t return in 2020, without a World Series scheduled.

The ALWS goes beyond the economic impact. It’s part of the fabric of Shelby’s community.

“There is a community pride in making it happen and doing it the best possible way,” said Emily Epley, travel and tourism director for Cleveland County.

Before the tournament begins, the 7th Inning Stretch Festival captivates the community. Martina McBride took the stage during the festival in 2017. Ronnie Dunn, a former member of country music duo Brooks & Dunn, played the inaugural event in 2011.

Then there’s a get-together the night before the tournament starts, so members of the teams can meet each other. Think of it more as a lawn party with cornhole and music. The late had Charlie Daniels performed at this party in the past.

Not to mention that the American Legion has readied significant investments in the field. According to the American Legion website, a $400,000 facility upgrade is underway at Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium.

“It’s as much of an upgrade for that field as has been done since it was first built,” John Brooks, chairperson of the ALWS Turf and Stadium committee, said in the story. “Unfortunately, the pandemic cost us this year’s World Series but it has given us all the time we need to make these improvements.”

The story says the upgrades “have been paid for by several generous contributions to the Shelby ALWS.”

Legion World Series in Shelby, 2018
The 2018 Legion World Series. Image courtesy of the American Legion.

Legion Baseball in North Carolina Communities

American Legion baseball can be a pivotal institution in small towns throughout central and western North Carolina. Rowan County, for instance, is home to one of the most storied American Legion baseball programs in the state. The team in Rowan County has won nine state championships and has advanced to the ALWS four times — most recently in 2016.

Cherryville Post 100, which is located just east of Shelby in Gaston County, won five state championships between 1998 and 2011 and has twice finished runner-up at the ALWS. This historical context of American Legion baseball in our state (both now and then) better explains why the loss of the 2020 World Series in Shelby costs North Carolina so much.