Lack of training camp leaves a Bengals-size hole in Georgetown

ahancock@herald-leader.comJuly 26, 2012 

GEORGETOWN — At a time when the Cincinnati Bengals usually would be arriving in town, black and orange flags no longer adorn Main Street, jerseys don't hang in store windows and football fans from far and near no longer can walk down the block to catch an NFL team practice.

The Bengals announced this year they would not hold their summer training camp at Georgetown College, ending a 15-year tradition.

In the past, having the Bengals in the community of 20,000 for three weeks in the summer boosted the bottom line for business owners and the college. Now, however, the Bengals will begin camp Friday at their home base of Paul Brown Stadium because of new NFL guidelines that reduced two-a-day practices and left more downtime for players to lift weights, watch video and meet with coaches — activities better suited to staying in Cincinnati than in the dorms at Georgetown.

Georgetown City Council member David Lusby said restaurants, hotels and shopping centers in the area will miss the influx of customers.

"I don't know how you can replace it or recover from it," Lusby said. "It was kind of a unique event. We were very fortunate to have that relationship."

Georgetown College built its stadium, an adjacent residential complex and the Thomas & King Leadership and Conference Center with the Bengals in mind. The college began resurfacing its main football field this week, changing it from natural grass to synthetic turf.

"It was always a matter of pride to have them. There's not many pro football teams that practice at college campuses anymore, and it was great for us to be mentioned with the Bengals," said Jim Durham, Georgetown College's news director.

The downtown atmosphere also was affected, said Sheri Gruchow, owner of Fava's restaurant. She has changed the name of her signature Bengal burger to Tiger burger.

Gruchow said she will miss seeing the players and tourists around town, as well as the extra money she had come to count on.

"It's a big a hole in the summer. We've looked forward to it in the past, especially being such a small community," Gruchow said. "Last year, we were on pins and needles, but this year it's even more devastating knowing they won't be here."

Marlene Thomas, a Fava's customer and Georgetown resident, was shocked to hear the news.

"I couldn't believe it. It's a shame, and it's going to be a big loss for this town," she said.

Terry Maurer, a former city council member and Georgetown College alum, said the camp was a big addition to the community each year.

"It kind of put Georgetown on the map; you can't buy advertising like that," Maurer said. He said sports fans traveled from Ohio and farther to watch the Bengals' public practices or scrim mages, gathering a crowd of more than 10,000 at times.

But, Maurer said, life goes on.

"We kept it as long as we could; it's just how it played it out," he said.

The college hosts several youth football camps throughout the summer. For the past three years, the Eastside High School football team from Coeburn, Va., traveled four hours to practice on the same campus as the Bengals.

Head coach Matt Hamilton said the Bengals' departure from the college nearly made them reconsider.

"I'm disappointed. I don't like that they're not here because that's why I chose to come here in the first place; it's a great experience to take your kids down there after practice, and they get to see things they would never get the opportunity to see," Hamilton said.

Erikk Banks, a senior running back for Eastside, said he missed being able to watch the pros after his team's three-a-day practices.

"It was a chance to see great talent and what could possibly happen or where you could possibly go with the game," he said.

"It makes you want to push and makes you want to be that good," Banks said.

Amanda Hancock: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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