Tiffany Benien of Visit Salina, the Salina branch of the Chamber of Commerce, plays a vital role in managing the slew of KSHSAA state championship events that converge on Salina every year.
“We love hosting the KSHSAA events,” Benien said. “They’re ran very well. Sometimes the role we do changes. Sometimes we host them and sometimes our role is very small. We host quite a few KSHSAA events.”
Salina has become one of the primary hubs for state championship events in Kansas. This school year, the city is already scheduled to host championship events for 2A State Football, 6A and 5A Volleyball, 3-2-1A Girls State Golf, 4A State Basketball, 4A Boys Wrestling and the brand new Girls State Wrestling Tournament. Baseball and Softball sites have not been announced for 2020 yet, but Salina regularly hosts tournaments for those sports as well.
“We have a contract with the city to run a visitors program. A main focal point of that is to bring visitors from outside of the area to experience Salina,” Benien said.
What makes Salina such a focal point for KSHSAA events is its central location in the state right off I-70 as well as the over 2,000 available hotel rooms in the city.
“We have a lot of availability with hotels,” Benien said. “A lot of these events come back year-after-year. The teams will book the rooms on their own. But we give KSHSAA a list of the hotels. We try to provide information on what amenities each hotel provides. It all depends on what each visitor is looking for. Many of our hotels anticipate that teams will be coming during those dates.”
The process for preparing for a state event begins roughly a month before the qualifying teams converge onto Salina.
“About a month out, we’ll meet with KSHSAA and go through our checklist. Then we usually connect with our volunteers and we work to schedule. We also work closely with USD 305 and their operations people. We rent the facility from them. Then we also send a letter to each of the qualifying teams to make sure they’re prepared,” Benien said.
With all the preparation Benien and the staff at Visit Salina undergo prior to the start of each event, she’s able to breathe easy once the ball is put into play.
“All the details and pre-planning is a huge step. We want to answer the what-ifs before they happen. We want to accomodate all those things. For me, game time is about the time I’m ready to take a breath,” Benien said.
While Salina has become a hotbed for state championships, Benien has certainly run into her fair share of hiccups along the way. She remembers one cold morning the day of a state championship football game.
“One year the locks were frozen to get in the stadium, so we had to blow torch them,” Benien said. “Sometimes little things become big things, but overall we’ve had a good time hosting all the KSHSAA events. Everybody here is a small village that makes it all work.”
Benien has been involved with athletics for most of her adult life. She was a dual-sport athlete at Kansas Wesleyan University, playing both softball and volleyball.
“I’ve always loved sports,” Benien said. “When I was in college, I figured out I really liked the business industry. I had a great professor who was a lawyer and a pilot. I went to him and told him I needed to start paying back my loans. He helped set up an intern with the chamber back in the late 1990s, and they took me on from there.”
The next time your local school qualifies for a state tournament and heads to Salina to compete, rest assured that Benien and her team with Visit Salina have been ready for you before you knew you were even going to celebrate your team’s success at a state tournament.
“We love working with KSHSAA,” Benien said. “We want to provide the best experience possible for all our guests here in Salina.”
Chet Kuplen, Founder/CEO of Sports in Kansas, knows how great of a sports town Salina is. For someone that covers sports border to border in all shapes and sizes, he feels Salina is the perfect place to have all kind of sporting events. Whether
"I think I've spent about five/six nights in their hotels in the past year alone for different games, events, Sharp Performance camps/combines, you name it. There's always something great going on there. Salina has what you need to host any type of sporting event in the state and the location is great. It's not terribly far from anywhere in the state to get to. I had no idea Salina was as big as it was and as much to do as there was there. They have great hotels and a lot of good spots to eat. Tiffany and her staff do a great job to bring in all kind of events to Salina. But not only that they make it a first class experience in how they welcome fans, staffs, players, coaches, into their town. They do a great job of marketing Salina."