Sports Business and Travel & Tourism

Winter Games expected to draw more than 2,000 athletes

Even without hockey, the competition continues to grow.

February 13, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Traditional winter events such as snowboarding will be joined by newcomers that include darts, billiards and disc golf.

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Despite losing a team sport, the Meijer State Games of Michigan – Winter Games will increase participation when the Opening Ceremonies take place next Friday at Cannonsburg Ski Area.

As the state’s amateur hockey players are well into their season schedules, and high school tournaments head into districts, the players are unable to participate in the Winter Games this year — even the non-travel team players who made up the tournament last year are sitting this one out.

“Even the tournament directors are deep into tournaments,” said Eric Engelbarts, Meijer State Games executive director. “I’m sure we’ll figure it out; people are freaking out already that registration isn’t open for hockey in the summer.”

Hockey has been one of the Summer Games signature events since the event started in 2010.

Despite losing eight team rosters, the Winter Games added 10 sports and will see participation rise from approximately 1,600 athletes to more than 2,000.

“That’s a significant feat since we’re losing a team sport,” Engelbarts said.

Some of the added sports are traditional such as cross-country skiing, while others include darts and disc golf.

As soon as last season’s Winter Games schedule came out, Engelbarts said there were questions as to why cross-country skiing wasn’t included in the 2014 inaugural games. Engelbarts said there hasn’t been a cross-country competition in West Michigan in “forever” because of the unpredictability of snowfall. So this year he worked with an existing event near Grayling, the Hanson Hills Classic, in order to include cross-country skiing in this year’s Winter Games.

The event took place Feb. 1.

“We used some existing events to make a more appealing distance for skiers,” he said. “We took an existing event and doubled its participation. Our ultimate goal is to get cross country in Kent County and utilize hotels, but we had to get it off the ground.”

The Winter Games also held a sanctioned USA Weightlifting event at the end of January because of scheduling.

“If we wanted weightlifting, that’s when we were doing it,” he said.

The event was capped at 40 athletes, including lifters from the USA Training Center in Marquette.

Non-traditional sports such as disc golf, billiards, virtual rowing and darts will make their first appearances. The Grand Rapids Dart League will host its second tournament in conjunction with the State Games. Prior to this year, the league held one annual tournament, which attracts between 200 and 300 people.

Engelbarts said the disc golf group came to him and said they wanted to be part of the Winter Games. They explained to a puzzled Engelbarts that they attach streamers to the discs, which allows the athletes to find them in the snow.

Other new sports include banked slalom snowboarding, pistol shooting and quad rugby.

All sports are self-sufficient, so whatever they make in sponsorships and registration fees is what they get to spend.

At the end of January, the West Michigan Sports Commission released its first economic impact report, which found the organization has contributed more than $145 million to the West Michigan region with youth and amateur sports since it was founded in 2007.

With the addition of the Winter Games last year, the commission had its best year yet, contributing $39 million to the area.

“We had a good year last year,” Engelbarts said. “We launched Winter Games, landed the State Games of America — a couple of good wins there.”

In the fall, the WMSC landed the 2017 State Games of America — which could bring more than 20,000 athletes to town — and now Engelbarts must scale up the summer competition to be ready to host athletes from across the country.

Many of the sports that will need to be added are traditional team sports such as baseball and softball. For this year’s Summer Games, Engelbarts said there already are 26 teams signed up for baseball without even promoting registration; he hopes to hit 50 to 60 teams for a three-day tournament at the Art Van Sports Complex in Rockford.

Right now, Engelbarts said he’s completing contracts for the State Games of America; all sports must be lined up by January 2016. Then, he’ll be able to relax a bit.

“By securing 2017, it’s just made things go crazy,” he said.

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