Today the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex celebrates its 20th anniversary. Since it opened in 1997 the story of our ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort has been written through the athletes who have passionately competed on its fields, courts and diamonds.
Each year ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex hosts more than 100 annual athletic events and over the years those events have featured more than 70 different sports for amateur and professional athletes alike. The complex has become a place where athletes challenge themselves, push their limits, reach new heights and make their sports dreams come true in ways only Disney can do.
So to commemorate the complex’s 20th anniversary, let’s take a trip down memory lane to look at the Top 20 moments in ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex history and then check out a video highlight reel of some of our biggest sports milestones.
1. March 28, 1997 — Grand opening of Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex included a spring training Major League Baseball game featuring the Atlanta Braves as they defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 9-7, in front of a sellout crowd of more than 10,000
2. July 5-12, 1997 — First AAU Boys Basketball National Championship
3. December 7-13, 1998 — First Pop Warner Super Bowl and Cheer & Dance National Championship
4. February 13 – March 25, 1998 — Atlanta Braves relocate to the sports complex from West Palm Beach for spring training
5. December 26-30, 2000 — Disney’s Soccer Showcase, the premier youth soccer event in the nation, begins its first year at the complex
6. July 29 – August 21, 2002 — Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp marks first NFL pre-season training camp at the complex
7. March 7-10, 2006 — The opening games of the Inaugural World Baseball Classic take place
8. July 6, 2008 — Grand opening of the J Center, the multi-sport facility that houses cheer and dance, basketball and volleyball courts
9. March 6-8, 2009 — Inaugural Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend
10. February 25, 2010 — A host of sports stars help kick off the opening of the newly re-imagined ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
11. October 1-3, 2010 — More than 14,000 runners dined and dashed through the runDisney Kids Races, 5K and half marathon in the inaugural Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend
12. February 11, 2012 — First Lady Michelle Obama speaks to hundreds of children and their parents about the importance of healthy living during “Let’s Move!” health initiative event
13. June 19-27, 2012 — AAU sets the Guinness Book of World Records for largest volleyball tournament division
14. January 13, 2013 — 20th anniversary of Walt Disney World Marathon
15. March 29 – September 6, 2014 — Orlando City Soccer plays full regular soccer season at the complex
16. February 27, 2014 — ESPN relocates John Gruden’s QB Camp to the complex
17. April 15-17, 2016 — More than 43,000 runners channeled the power of The Force for the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side
18. May 5-12, 2016 — Over 500 wounded, ill and injured military personnel compete in 10 sporting events during the Invictus Games led by Prince Harry
19. September 9-10, 2016 — Night of Joy event held at the complex for the first time
20. January 25-28, 2017 — NFL Pro Bowl Week moves from Hawaii to Orlando with a full week of football events, activities and practices at the complex
For a look at these magical memories check out this video of highlights from the past 20 years!
I remember the lead up to opening day as our teams transitioned through the marketing and sales phases of “seed” to pre-opening to launch. Similar to the openings of new theme parks it was wonderful to see blue sky visions turn into reality. The venue and the services it delivers gets better every year! Congratulations to all of you who have played a part in EWWS’ success.
I will never forget the home stretch of finishing my first marathon (WDW 2014!) through the WWOS!