By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Thousands of volleyball players along with their coaches and family members participated in the first day of the Colorado Crossroads tournament Friday, the first major event at the convention center more than a year into the pandemic. Local leaders and event organizers say a coordinated response started months before the convention center even reopened to make large gatherings like the tournament return to downtown.

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“It’s crazy to think that last year when we were here is when it all started to unfold,” said Whitney Loman, 16, a competitor at the tournament this weekend.

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Loman traveled with her mother and other players from Nebraska, driving into Denver Thursday night. She had to test negative for COVID-19 in order to participate and her mother showed proof she was fully vaccinated.

“I remember going up those escalators last year and looking around thinking oh is COVID here?” Sara Loman told CBS4 on Friday. “We’re very happy to be here.”

This isn’t their first tournament but they say the requirements in Colorado are more particular than what they’ve seen in their home state. They don’t mind the restrictions, which limited them to one guest per player and setting a capacity limit on the number of girls on a court at a time, no more than 25 people. The regional tournament is also a junior qualifying event for USA Volleyball.

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“This was the last group in our convention center a year ago and the first to come back,” said Richard Scharf, CEO of Visit Denver. “There had to be a lot of foresight because we had to make a lot of plans well in advance when we weren’t able to have a meeting of this size.”

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Another challenge for this particular event was accommodating the needs of visitors coming from 30 different states and the differing policies from individual businesses involved including airlines, hotels, and vendors. Restrictions and COVID guidelines change depending on the region or the industry.

“There are so many variables, every state has their own situation,” Scharf told CBS4 on Friday. “We have several events booked throughout the year but I have to say, each one has their own challenge.”

He says the schedule this year still won’t compare to what they saw in 2019 but he is optimistic that 2022 will bring a lot of needed guests to downtown and generate millions of dollars missing from the Colorado economy since the pandemic.

“This is really a tipping point for those businesses that have really suffered,” he said.

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So many people back on the street in downtown going in and out of the convention center, hotels, and restaurants was a welcome sight and these visitors say it was great to join together with others after almost a year of missing out on the competition.

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“Looking back on that whole year that we’ve had it’s kind of crazy and now that we’re back, it’s kind of a full-circle moment,” Loman said.

Shawn Chitnis