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Olympic-style festival gets underway this week

June 13, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Longboard
Downhill skateboarding is one of nine new events that will debut this week at the Meijer State Games of Michigan. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Summer has freshly arrived, and with the change in seasons comes the Meijer State Games of Michigan Summer Games.

A quick turnaround from the Winter Games in February left the West Michigan Sports Commission and the Meijer State Games staff busy during the spring. Meijer State Games Executive Director Eric Englebarts said the preparation of this year’s summer games began last year, about the same time the decision to have a winter games was made. The 5th Annual Meijer State Games of Michigan run June 20-22.

“We laid out the time lines and realized we’d be planning two events at the same time,” Englebarts said. “The summer games will always be sort of the crown jewel, so it’s always one of our top priorities.”

Co-marketing the events is a simple way to conjoin them, Englebarts said. Summer games registration was launched during the winter games and from there planning the games hit full speed once the winter games were completed. During the summer games, Englebarts said the dates for next year’s winter games would be released.

He said it’s the best way to make use of a captive audience.

More than 7,000 athletes and their families are expected to come to Grand Rapids for this summer’s games, at least matching and possibly surpassing last year’s numbers. Englebarts said the few weeks leading up to the games are the crunch time when a majority of the athletes register for the events. 

The number of winter storms delayed summer dismissal in Michigan school districts into the middle of June, and many families don’t look at a summer schedule until it’s upon them.

An economic survey of the games in the past has found the event injects more than $2.7 million into the local economy.

This year, the Meijer State Games adds nine events to the lineup, including bocce ball, cyclecross, football 7-on-7, horseshoes, downhill skateboarding, table tennis, triathlon, synchronized swimming and water skiing.

Staff for the Meijer State Games — which includes Englebarts and eight interns — recently moved out of the West Michigan Sports Commission office so they had room to plan. The space they temporarily used was at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center.

Much of this year’s planning went into a new torch tour that will cover much of the state. The torch itself is made of Michigan minerals. A stop in Lansing will see Gov. Rick Snyder and special tributes from the Senate and House of Representatives. The governor also will receive a commemorative display of the torch.

The torch will end up lighting the cauldron in Grand Rapids for the games, before heading back to Detroit for the 35th edition of the Michigan Senior Games. 

Corresponding with the first day of this year’s Meijer State Games is the decision of whether Grand Rapids will receive an official site visit for the 2017 State Games of America. Englebarts said hosting the State Games of America has always been in the West Michigan Sports Commission strategic plan, once the State Games of Michigan were up to full speed.

“This is that cycle taking place,” he said.

Grand Rapids will be up against Lincoln, Neb., Hampton Roads, Va., San Diego and Oklahoma City. Lincoln hosts the 2015 games, Hampton Roads rotates hosting the Virginia Games, and Oklahoma’s state games aren’t quite up to speed, Englebarts said. He also said San Diego held a stellar State Games of America in 2011.

“Honestly, I’d be surprised if we don’t receive a site visit,” he said. “We have two to three other places we’re really keeping our eyes on.”

If Grand Rapids is selected to host the State Games of America, which won’t be announced until this fall, the State Games of Michigan would be rearranged to be played at the same time, in August. It would allow all of Michigan’s participants to also compete in the national games. During the four days of the national event, Englebarts said more than 13,000 athletes end up in the host city, plus their families.

“It’s a great thing,” he said. “And we have a good shot.”

Every sport in the games is self-sufficient and handles all the individual registration fees and event costs. Many of the sports also end up having their individual event sponsors. Generally, all of the sports at least break even. Englebarts said sports have been dropped, but it’s not been because of failing to meet financial goals. Many of the associations in charge of the sports also use the state games as a fundraiser, so it’s advantageous for them to reduce expenses and increase registration fees.

“We want to make sure this event is a win-win for everyone,” Englebarts said.

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