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City preps for thousands of young athletes

– Dining out this weekend?

Be prepared to wait a little longer than usual. Be prepared for larger crowds. Be prepared for roaming packs of hungry kids donning athletic gear.

Four regional youth and teen sports events will descend upon the city this weekend, bringing with them nearly 7,000 participants – and their family members – as well an estimated $1 million to Fort Wayne.

Those estimates come from Visit Fort Wayne, the area’s tourism agency, which used data based on past events and surveys on past participants’ eating and travel habits to crunch such numbers.

“There will probably be extra people going into restaurants and into hotels, and it may be hard to park in some spots, but we look at this as a great thing,” said John Felts, a marketing specialist with Visit Fort Wayne.

“People will be coming to enjoy our restaurants and facilities, and we’re very confident that once they come here, they’ll be back.”

The events scheduled are:

•The Gym Rats MLK Classic at Spiece Fieldhouse will take place Saturday and Sunday, with roughly 3,500 basketball players in grades 3-8 taking part.

•The Fort Wayne MLK Challenge, a volleyball event for ages 12 to 18 with nearly 2,500 participants from multiple states, will be at Memorial Coliseum and SportOne Parkview Fieldhouse on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

•The Fort Wayne Aquatics Winter Classic Invitational will include 200 of Indiana’s top swimmers at the Helen P. Brown Natatorium today, Saturday and Sunday.

•The Fort Wayne Fever 11v11 Indoor Challenge Tournament is expected to feature 1,000 soccer players from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska and Illinois at The Plex South today, Saturday and Sunday.

Felts said rarely do four such events fall on the same weekend but that this time “everything just fell into place.”

“We’re seeing a huge growth in youth sports,” he said. “Sports are an area we wanted to improve on, and there’s been a huge growth in the last few years due to the different facilities popping up.”

And with extra sporting events come extra out-of-towners.

With extra mouths to feed.

And likely, extra waits and crowds this weekend.