Cities eager to duplicate games' success

Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Show-Me State Games soccer participants celebrated the start of the games during opening ceremonies Friday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. The games are the largest state games in the country featuring more than 30,000 participants competing in 40 sports. (L.G. Patterson ~ Associated Press)

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Some are elite athletes, imposing physical specimens of all ages who live and breathe for their chosen sport.

Others are weekend warriors, defying broken-down body parts, bulging waistlines and Father Time for one more shot at glory. Even couch potatoes are welcome -- no questions asked.

Now in its 23rd year, the Show-Me State Games have grown from a modest amateur sports festival into the largest state games in the country, with more than 30,000 participants competing in 40 sports over three summer weekends.

The success of the Show-Me Games, which began Friday and continue the next two weekends, has communities across Missouri seeking their own piece of the action.

Exploring local events

Participants line up as the parade of athletes make their way through Mizzou Arena, Friday, July 20, 2007, during Show Me State Games opening ceremonies in Columbia , Mo. The games are the largest state games in the country featuring more than 35,000 participants competing in 40 sports. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

In September, the games head south to Fort Leonard Wood for the first Hooah! Sports Challenge, a three-day event designed to draw more participants from the base as well as Springfield, Rolla and other parts of southern Missouri.

Moberly is interested in its own weekend sports festival to boost interest and attendance at its half-mile oval race track. West Plains wants a Show-Me Games soccer tournament that would attract teams from across the border in Arkansas.

Jefferson City, Branson and other cities are also exploring local events, eager for the economic development boost and tourism dollars from minivan-driving families and their minions.

"It gives us a chance to go out and have a presence around the state," said Ken Ash, executive director of the Missouri games and a former high school baseball and basketball coach.

The Hooah! event -- named for the Army phrase that is equal parts battle cry and catchall response -- will feature archery, basketball, bowling, golf, trap and skeet shooting and a 5-kilometer road race.

With about 12,000 service members training at the base on any given day, organizers expect the event to benefit not only the local community but also the more entrenched statewide competition.

"Maybe they'll come here for a smaller event," said Andy Thiem, executive director of the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau. "And if they like it, it helps to grow the state event in the summer."

Love of the game

Participation, not winning at all costs, drives the Show-Me State Games.

Athletes who marched in the opening ceremonies at Mizzou Arena were asked to stand and recite a sportsmanship oath. So were their parents, coaches and other spectators.

Many of the participants, particularly those entered in baseball, basketball, softball and soccer, came to Columbia as part of an established team.

Others took advantage of the games' welcoming atmosphere to unite on the playing field with teammates they barely knew, all in pursuit of a common love of sport.

Just look no further than the fields where 40-something guys in knee braces guarded high-school opponents with braces on their teeth while playing Ultimate, a blend of soccer and football using discs.

For tennis commissioner Jim LaRue, 60, the games offer an opportunity to continue contributing to the sport he has coached and played for decades.

The former University of Missouri coach, now a Columbia antique shop owner, has helped out since the Show-Me State Games' 1985 debut.

In between charting results, answering player questions and making sure matches started on time, LaRue had a chance to play some mixed doubles with an old coaching buddy from Northwest Missouri State University.

"There's nobody playing for money or rankings," said LaRue, who also works as a professional tennis umpire. "They're here because it's fun."

That's not to say results aren't important.

"They all want to win," Ash said. "If you keep score, people want to win."

Show-Me Games

n Amateur Olympics: Missouri is one of 40 states to host amateur, Olympic-style competitions. The Missouri event welcomes more competitors to the Columbia finals than any other state, according to the National Congress of State Games.

* Sports galore: Competitors can participate in 40 sports, from archery to judo to synchronized swimming.

* Local games: The event's success has several Missouri cities exploring the creation of smaller sports festivals. Fort Leonard Wood will host an event in September.

-- The Associated Press

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