HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP — Sue Shunk came for the volleyball, but she stayed for the sweet, sweet wine.
Shunk, of Bowling Green is a Bowling Green State University alumni and volleyball player who follows those Falcons to every championship.
She spent the Mid-Atlantic Conference championships at Spire Institute over the weekend, but made some time to check out Ashtabula County’s famed wineries.
“I’ve been here for three days,” Shunk said. “I drive in three hours every day and drive back three hours every night. I love it.”
Shunk stopped at Deer’s Leap Winery on Route 534 in Harpersfield Township to taste the wine and meet the winery’s aviary of parrots.
“I drank the fruit wine and talked to the birds,” Shunk said. “It was fantastic.”
Shunk said she has become a three-day regular at Best Friend’s Restaurant, across the street from Spire, and even stops at the eatery when she is “just passing through” the county while on her way to the Falcon’s other championship tournaments. “They have the best food at Best Friends,” she said.
Bill Schelpler of Illinois was a fixture on the bleachers at Spire as he cheered on daughter Justine and the Northern Illinois University Huskies for three days of play. The Schelpler family made a trip of it, he said.
“We took a scenic drive by the lake and stopped to see some covered bridges,” he said. “We ate dinner at Cleats and made plans to come back here next fall to see the leaves and the rest of the bridges.”
Spire founder Ron Clutter said the sports complex hosted four large events over the weekend: The MAC championships, Premiere Soccer tournament, the Mark Braun Swimming Classic, and the Taste of Home Cooking School.
“There were thousands of people in and out of this place over the last three days,” Clutter said. “It is impossible for that many people to leave without making an impact on the local economy — from gas stations to wineries to restaurants.”
Clutter said the sports complex is bringing in people from across the region and across the country to Ashtabula County. “I would say 95 percent of the people who come through these doors for events and tournaments and training are not local,” he said.
Clutter said the MAC championships is one of the biggest events of the year for Spire. The championship is broadcast on ESPN. “I can tell you the players and their families were out at many local restaurants and wineries over the last few days,” he said. “I was at Ferrante’s last night and I saw a lot of familiar faces from the championships. It’s good to see people enjoying what this county has to offer.”