Disney's Wide World of Sports Athletes, Celebrities & Special Events
Grand Opening -- The Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds played a Major League Baseball spring training exhibition on March 28, 1997, in the official grand opening event at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. Two-sport star Deion Sanders, then the Reds' lead-off hitter and starting centerfielder, recorded the first hit, stole the first base and scored the first run in The Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex history. Former Braves slugger Fred McGriff hit the first home run, as the Braves won 9-7 in front of a capacity crowd of 10,000.
Let's Get It Started -- Since its opening summer, Disney's Wide World of Sports has been a proving ground for top prep basketball players hoping to make the jump to top colleges and the NBA. The first game ever played in The Milk House was the prestigious Nike Hoop Summit in 1997, a U.S. high school versus international select team all star game that included some 10 future NBA players, including Elton Brand, Baron Davis and Dirk Nowitzki. ... The Milk House has continued to host top prep players during annual Amateur Athletic Union National Championships, as evidenced by the three first round picks from the 2004 NBA Draft who played in past AAU 17:U Super Showcase events at the sports complex -- Emeka Okafor (No. 2 pick), Houston Hoops in 2000; Luol Deng (No. 7), New Jersey Demons in 2002; and Al Jefferson (No. 15), Jackson (Miss.) Tigers in 2003. Other NBA players who competed in AAU basketball tournaments at Disney's Wide World of Sports include: Yao Ming, Richard Jefferson, Amare Stoudamire and Darius Miles.
Olympic Heroes -- Two international sports icons to light the cauldron during Summer Olympic Games opening ceremonies have visited Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. Former boxing heavyweight champion and 1960 gold medalist Muhammad Ali lit the cauldron in Atlanta in 1996 and visited the sports complex in February 1999 as part of the National Consortium for Academics & Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Australian track star Cathy Freeman, who lit the cauldron in Sydney in 2000 and captured the 400m gold medal, participated in Disney's Dreamers and Doers in May 2001.
Tiger Tales -- The sports complex played host to the first-ever Tiger Woods Foundation junior golf clinic on March 16, 1997, just 12 days prior to the official grand opening of the facility. Woods hosted 150 players, ages five to 17, for an instructional session and a hitting display that left the young fans breathless. Woods also made an appearance at the All Star Cafe grand opening party at the sports complex on March 31, 1998, along with tennis great Andre Agassi and actor Cuba Gooding Jr.
Future Diamond Stars -- One of the first events in the history of Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex was a youth baseball exhibition in September 1996. The game included a pair of talented young players from Central Florida -- Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder -- who were eventually selected in the first round of the 2002 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Greinke, a pitcher from Apopka, Fla., was picked sixth overall by the Kansas City Royals, while Fielder, a first baseman and the son of former big league slugger Cecil Fielder, was picked seventh by the Milwaukee Brewers. In a sign of things to come, both youth players homered at Disney, recording two of the first round-trippers in the history of the sports complex.
First Pitches -- The Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex is one of the most popular spring training ballparks in Major League Baseball. Sports celebrities and entertainers are often part of the experience, as many have taken the mound for ceremonial first pitches in front of sellout crowds. Some of the famous names who have thrown first pitches include: Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward, Tracy McGrady, NASCAR legend Richard Petty, actors Cuba Gooding Jr. and Matthew McConaughey, Derrick Brooks, Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and football coach George O'Leary. Tiger Woods has not thrown the first pitch, but he did take batting practice with the Braves prior to a 1999 game at Disney.
Where Pro Teams Train -- Disney's Wide World of Sports is the only sports facility in the country to host training events for teams in the three primary American professional sports leagues. In 2003, the complex welcomed the Atlanta Braves (Major League Baseball), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (National Football League) and the Orlando Magic (National Basketball Association). The facility has also hosted training events for Major League Soccer franchises (1998), football teams from NFL Europe (1999), the United States Men's (1998) and Women's (1999) National soccer teams and the inaugural WNBA Pre-Draft Camp (1997). On the international front, the sports complex welcomed Scotland's Celtic Football Club for mid-season training in 2001 and 2003 and remains a warm-weather training destination for elite athletes from the British Olympic Association (BOA).
World Champs -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved their NFL training camp to Disney's Wide World of Sports in 2002 under new head coach Jon Gruden. The move paid dividends immediately, as the franchise captured its first-ever Super Bowl title that season. The Bucs have returned to Walt Disney World Resort for their pre-season training every year since.
A Smash Hit -- In September 1997, Disney's Wide World of Sports played host to one of the most star-studded events in its history, the World TeamTennis/Elton John All Star Smash Hits. The line-up included Elton John, Billie Jean King, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Mary Pierce, Venus and Serena Williams and others in a celebrity tennis fundraiser at Disney's Milk House.
Players Choice Awards -- Following their record-setting home run race during the 1998 baseball season, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa reunited for the first time at Disney's Wide World of Sports at the MLB Players Choice Awards. The charismatic duo posed for the cover photo of Life Magazine's Year in Pictures inside the Disney ballpark. They then took center stage while surrounded by a dizzying line-up of ballplayers, including Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr., who celebrated their remarkable season achievement.
Production Value -- From commercials to made-for-TV broadcast specials, the sports complex has hosted its share of productions. Famed director/producer Spike Lee filmed a New Era cap commercial with NFL twins Tiki and Ronde Barber in 1998. ESPN has conducted multiple on-location broadcasts, including an Outside the Lines Town Hall meeting on Sportsmanship (1997) hosted by Bob Ley, the Major League Baseball Players Choice Awards (1998), The Home Depot College Football Awards (1999) and Battle of the Gridiron Stars (2005, 2006). ESPN has also conducted on location broadcasts of signature shows, such as Baseball Tonight and NFL Live.
The Old College Try -- Collegiate events have been a major part of the schedule at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Three top leagues have conducted conference championships at Walt Disney World Resort, including the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Top women's basketball programs competed at The Milk House in the made-for-TV Honda Elite 4 Holiday Classic doubleheader (1998-2001), and men's and women's programs from all parts of the country continue to participate in the annual Disney's Division II Tip Off Classic and Old Spice Classic. More than a thousand of the nation's best and brightest student-athletes also travel to the sports complex each year for the NCAA Leadership Conference.
All Ages and Abilities -- Disney's Wide World of Sports prides itself on being a facility that athletes of all ages and abilities can enjoy and experience. The oldest competitor in sports complex history is 99-year-old archer John Piño from New Mexico, who competed in the 1999 U.S. Senior Olympics. Athletes equally as inspirational participated in the National Kidney Foundation's Transplant Games (2000 and 2002) and the 2002 Disabled Sports USA International Challenge at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
Smells Like Teen Spirit -- High school athletes from Florida and around the country continue to compete in events throughout the year at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Lacrosse, softball, baseball and track & field teams from the Midwest, Northeast and other areas have escaped winter weather back home and participated in Disney's Spring Training programs since 1997. The Kaylee Scholarship Association (KSA) has brought hundreds of prep football, basketball, wrestling, field hockey and other teams to Walt Disney World Resort for signature events. Florida High School State Championship events in lacrosse and girls volleyball have also been contested at the Disney sports complex.
Every Kid's Super Bowl -- Only a small fraction of youth sport athletes ever get the chance to compete at the college level, in the pros or on the world stage at the Olympics. Disney's Wide World of Sports aspires to give every athlete who enters the complex the experience of a lifetime. This goal is evident in the Pop Warner Super Bowl, Major League Baseball R.B.I. World Series and others that give kids from less fortunate backgrounds the opportunity to travel to Walt Disney World Resort and compete at world-class facilities.
Concerts, Congratulations and Corporate Groups -- The sports complex offers a handful of unique venues that push the envelope well beyond what traditional convention facilities can host. From The Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex to the Sports Fields, the complex has played host to a Stevie Wonder concert during a theme park opening party, numerous corporate team-building events, graduation ceremonies for area high schools and even a Homecoming event for Florida National Guardsmen and their family members.