Sports Train­ing Mecca

IMG at­tracts world’s best ath­letes to Braden­ton

RSWLiving - - PROFILE - BY JACOB OGLES

From ten­nis leg­ends to foot­ball pow­er­houses, IMG Academy in Braden­ton has pro­vided a cam­pus for train­ing and ed­u­cat­ing the sports world’s big­gest stars, and along the way helped turn South­west Florida into a sports cap­i­tal ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing the great­est ath­letes on the planet. As the school opens a new bou­tique ho­tel, its rep­u­ta­tion as a world-class sports des­ti­na­tion grows with the same grace and speed that IMG grad­u­ates tally grand slams.

Chris Ci­ac­cio, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and re­search for the academy, says the Mana­tee County op­er­a­tion teaches ath­letes to dream big, and the am­bi­tious growth on cam­pus shows that school of­fi­cials take the same ap­proach. “The IMG Academy con­tin­ues to be a des­ti­na­tion for a num­ber of events we own or man­age,” Ci­ac­cio says, “and the num­ber of events that uti­lize our fa­cil­i­ties will con­tinue to grow.”

An Oc­to­ber ground­break­ing for The Legacy Ho­tel, a 150-room up­scale bou­tique ho­tel on the edge of cam­pus, marks the most re­cent and per­haps most posh lure for top-notch sports stars to train at IMG. From the school’s be­gin­nings in 1978, how­ever, the train­ing avail­able here proved at­trac­tive enough.

Be­fore be­com­ing IMG Academy, the school be­gan as the Nick Bol­let­tieri Ten­nis Academy, it­self an off­shoot of a ten­nis pro­gram at the now-de­funct Colony Beach & Ten­nis Re­sort on Long­boat Key, once one of the top ten­nis re­sorts in the coun­try. Nick Bol­let­tieri’s rep­u­ta­tion as a ten­nis coach pre­dated his ar­rival in Florida, but af­ter he moved to the Gulf Coast in 1977, phe­noms flocked to the Colony re­sort to train un­der the in­struc­tor and his staff. Soon, lo­cal star Mike DePalma earned na­tional at­ten­tion, and a list of soon-to-be greats found the courts.

Bol­let­tieri set up a res­i­dence for stu­dent ath­letes and quickly had a group of 20 on hand and anx­ious to train. “They would just keep show­ing up, and we fi­nally de­cided we needed a

IMG Academy’s list of ac­com­plished alumni in­cludes Carolina Pan­thers quar­ter­back Cam New­ton, Chicago Bulls shoot­ing guard Jimmy But­ler and Ja­panese ten­nis star Kei Nishikori.

school,” Bol­let­tieri re­calls. His pro­gram ul­ti­mately pro­duced such stars as An­dre Agassi, Mon­ica Se­les and Jim Courier, and later the likes of Venus and Ser­ena Wil­liams, Anna Kournikova and Maria Shara­pova, who trained with Bol­let­tieri at var­i­ous times at his school.

The In­ter­na­tional Man­age­ment Group, a sports and en­ter­tain­ment com­pany that rep­re­sented ath­letes like Arnold Palmer, en­tered the pic­ture in 1987 when it bought the school. By the mid-1990s, the re­branded IMG Academy added golf pro­grams to its mix, then bas­ket­ball in the early 2000s. The school’s pro­file in team sports es­ca­lated sig­nif­i­cantly with the ad­di­tion of a foot­ball pro­gram in 2010. Mean­while, the Braden­ton cam­pus grew to some 500 acres.

In 2013, Wil­liam Mor­ris En­deavor ac­quired the en­tire IMG World­wide em­pire for roughly $2 bil­lion. Ci­ac­cio, who was with the academy be­fore and af­ter that pur­chase, says the school re­mains as poised as ever to be an in­ter­na­tional leader in sports per­for­mance and train­ing and to keep the academy as a vi­tal des­ti­na­tion draw­ing ath­letes and fans to the re­gion.

The academy has branded pro­grams with world-class sports train­ing such as Nick Bol­let­tieri Ten­nis and the John Mad­den Foot­ball Academy, and it of­fers not only pro­fes­sional-level pro­grams, but

also adult and fam­ily pro­grams in ten­nis, golf and fit­ness. It has also served as a re­search and devel­op­ment fa­cil­ity over the years for com­pa­nies like Ga­torade and Un­der Ar­mor that have en­tered into part­ner­ships with the academy to test prod­ucts and re­search sports ther­a­pies and medicines.

Ci­ac­cio stresses the academy’s role as an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion to young stu­dents en­rolled in its board­ing school. “We take the same ap­proach to aca­demics as to ath­let­ics,” he says. “Sports of­ten steal the head­lines, but aca­demics are at the heart and cen­ter of what we do.” The school touts that its grad­u­ates have pur­sued higher ed­u­ca­tion at such pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions as Yale, Prince­ton, Har­vard, West Point, Cor­nell and Johns Hop­kins.

That said, sports have al­ways pro­vided the chief iden­tity for the in­sti­tu­tion, which through the years has drawn both young hope­fuls and ex­pe­ri­enced veter­ans with its rig­or­ous train­ing. IMG Academy’s list of ac­com­plished alumni in­cludes Carolina Pan­thers quar­ter­back Cam New­ton, Chicago Bulls shoot­ing guard Jimmy But­ler and Ja­panese ten­nis star Kei Nishikori. The school holds spe­cial pro camps dur­ing the NFL off­sea­son and of­fers NFL Com­bine train­ing to top player prospects. An in­creas­ing num­ber of events take place on the large cam­pus, which opened a track and field sta­dium in 2014, in ad­di­tion to the ex­ist­ing 52 ten­nis courts, 18-hole golf course and four base­ball fields in op­er­a­tion.

“Our goal is to com­ple­ment the com­mu­nity’s ef­forts to be a world-class des­ti­na­tion,” Ci­ac­cio says. “Be it for sports per­for­mance, at­tend­ing an event, en­rolling in our board­ing school or tak­ing ad­van­tage of camp pro­grams for in­di­vid­u­als, we want to be a strong com­mu­nity leader.”

The in­crease in the num­ber of spa­ces and hospi­tal­ity venues en­sures the cam­pus will con­tinue to grow. Ci­ac­cio won’t spec­u­late on what other sports may be­come part of the IMG of­fer­ings, but says the in­sti­tu­tion prom­ises a high stan­dard for qual­ity in ev­ery field, just as the ath­letes on cam­pus strive for the high­est mea­sures of suc­cess.

An Oc­to­ber ground­break­ing for The Legacy Ho­tel, a 150-room up­scale bou­tique ho­tel on the edge of cam­pus, marks the most re­cent and per­haps most posh lure for top-notch sports stars to train at IMG.

Among the mul­ti­ple fa­cil­i­ties on the 500-acre IMG prop­erty are a 5,000-seat sta­dium (be­low), track and field train­ing area (top left) and dor­mi­to­ries (top right).

The IMG Per­for­mance and Sports Science Cen­ter in­cludes a 12,000-square-foot weight room.

The Legacy Ho­tel at IMG Academy (be­low), sit­u­ated on the edge of cam­pus, will of­fer lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tions and fa­cil­i­ties (above) to IMG clients and visi­tors to the Braden­ton area. It is ex­pected to open in the fall.

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