By Jeff Toquinto on October 11, 2014
When you host hundreds of events each year from wedding receptions to major conferences, having unique food requests isn't something that is a problem for Scott Duarte and his staff at the Bridgeport Conference Center. But even Duarte knows that the food requests and, for that matter, what will certainly be a whole bunch of additional requests set for Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 will be the first of its kind.
Duarte, as well as so many other key players in Bridgeport and North Central West Virginia is hoping it won't be the last of its kind.
This coming Friday and into Saturday, the Bridgeport Conference Center and the Wingate Inn that it's adjoined to won't have a usual 24-hour period. Instead of the regular travelers stopping by or the workers who often stay there, the entire facility will become the headquarters for the Baylor University football team, its staff and other key personnel prior to Saturday's noon contest against West Virginia University.
"This is an opportunity to showcase our Conference Center, North Central West Virginia and what this region is capable of handling," said Duarte. "We want to show Baylor that we can accommodate a party of that size and easily be able to meet their dining, lodging and meeting needs."
The most unique thing is likely the menu and meal schedule. It's not that Duarte, Executive Chief Don Vilain and others haven't dealt with large groups before it's just, well, they've never dealt with a group of people that are this large before.
"We're looking at close to 200 folks; a large majority being rather large football players that come with pretty substantial appetites," said Duarte. "(Baylor) has a nutritionist that has been working with Don to make sure what their nutritional needs are met. We get unique food requests, but I can confidently say working with a nutritionist on dietary needs is not the norm.
"The bottom line is that we have to step up," Duarte continued. "We'll be doing planning and prepping before they arrive to make sure that we do step up."
The first place that Baylor's traveling party will show up is at the North Central West Virginia Airport. This will mark the second time since WVU began competition in Big 12 football that a team has flown into Bridgeport (Oklahoma did earlier this year), but it will mark the first time that the team has stayed in Bridgeport.
The team is expected to arrive around 4:30 p.m. Friday. Rock said his staff's goal is to make sure they're off their plane, loaded onto busses and up the road three miles to begin their game preparation as quickly as possible.
"We'll work with them like we do for every flight and that is to get them in and out as smoothly as possible. All of our guests have schedules, but I can tell you that football coaches are strict about their schedules and we don't want to interfere with that," said NCWV Airport Director Rick Rock. "If they have any questions, we'll answer them. All I want them to notice, if they notice anything at all, is that we're working as hard and as fast as possible as opposed to looking up and smiling at a major college football team. I have absolute confidence that if they notice anything it will be our staff's professionalism."
While Baylor will be the first to stay in Bridgeport, Greater Bridgeport Convention and Visitor's Bureau Board of Directors Chairman Drew Pomeroy – who was key in getting the Bears here – also worked with Duarte and others to get Texas Christian University to agree to come and stay in Bridgeport as well later this year. Pomeroy said this is a chance to get not only the Big 12 teams here, but the fans that follow.
"The benefits of having Baylor and TCU here go without saying, but we don't want it to just be those two teams. The goal is that when Baylor leaves here and gets back to Waco we find out through our follow-up that there were no issues and everything went smoothly," said Pomeroy. "In the hospitality and tourism industry, if you get a positive review of your facility and your experience, you're going to tell your peers about what a positive experience you've had from professional staff to the alumni that travel with teams."
That main person to impress, said Pomeroy, would be Baylor's head of football operations. If that happens, he said it's very likely that person will go back and tell his colleague in the Big 12 and beyond about a positive experience. And that collet group of Division I football operations heads are a very limited social circle.
"In Division I football, you're looking at roughly 120 football operations guys so that's not a big market and it's kind of like a loose-knit fraternity so doing a good job is paramount. If Scott and Rick do what they always do, inevitably it's going to mean more business," Pomeroy said. "The thing people have to understand is that Baylor isn't coming here to check out the fall colors of West Virginia; their business isn't to visit this state. Their purpose is to win a football game. With everyone involved in making sure there are no distractions or hassles, it will go a long way to getting Baylor and eventually others to come here as well."
"I hope it's a domino effect and, ultimately, that's up to us. We want them to come here for multiple reasons, but it just makes sense to be in Bridgeport away from the loudness of Morgantown on game day. But if they can't stay here, we certainly want teams to stay in West Virginia," said Duarte. "There's a lot on the line when Baylor gets here and we want them to know whatever they need we're going to accommodate them."