West Michigan scores national sports competition


The Meijer State Games, which recently added skateboarding, will be adding several more sports in the next few years as part of the buildup to the 2017 State Games of America. Photo by Johnny Quirin

The Meijer State Games of Michigan received a shot in the arm last week.

The National Congress of State Games, holding its annual symposium at Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, awarded the 2017 State Games of America to the city.

The State Games of America is a biennial event and allows all of the medal winners from individual state games of the previous two years to compete for national honors.

“Our idea was to bring (the national symposium) to town and show them what we have,” said Eric Engelbarts, executive director of the Meijer State Games of America.

“They decided to do everything at the same time and give it to us while they were here. We couldn’t believe we got it while they were here.”

The symposium included seminars, workshops, and the annual business meeting of the organization’s executives.

The announcement comes five years after the creation of the Meijer State Games of Michigan by the West Michigan Sports Commission. The organization’s goals, mission and quick growth all contributed to the National Congress’s decision.

“Our community continually supports public-private partnerships, which helped form the West Michigan Sports Commission and our success in promoting sports tourism,” said Mike Guswiler, WMSC president.

“This support is also reflected in our successful Meijer State Games of Michigan, which contributed to the NCSG board’s decision and trust in our ability to host a successful State Games of America in 2017.”

Three other cities were in the running for the 2017 games: San Diego, Hampton Roads, Va., and Lincoln, Neb.

“It was a tough decision by our board, as all cities proved their ability to successfully host these games,” said Dan Duffy, president of NCSG.

“Ultimately, the board felt that Grand Rapids offered the most compelling bid, based on their successful Meijer State Games of Michigan and the many community and local sport partnerships involved in the bid.”

Growth has been solid for the state games, but with the national games looming in three cycles, the annual games should grow even larger. Engelbarts said the WMSC pitched its proposal with an estimated 8,000 participants by 2017, but that was with conservative growth in existing sports only. Last year, the Meijer Games had approximately 7,000 participants.

The National State Games of America have several core sports the Meijer Games have yet to implement, such as gymnastics. Those sports will be implemented immediately to help build up the games in 2017, Engelbarts said.

“This is an easy way to ramp it up,” he said.

Because Ohio and Indiana don’t have state games, Michigan is allowed to promote and invite the residents from those states to Michigan. Until now, Engelbarts said concentration has been on building the games from within Michigan. That will change now, he said.

Next year, Engelbarts said he will spend at least a week in Lincoln, the host of the 2015 State Games of America. He said the Nebraska games are setting up to be the largest and most extravagant State Games of America yet. The 2015 games have a budget of $1 million and will run from Tuesday to Sunday, while Meijer State Games currently take place over a weekend.

“This will hopefully triple our budget for that year,” Englebarts said. “My goal would be to maintain what Nebraska does, if not make it better.”

Engelbarts will sit down soon to “sharpen his pencil and take a hard look at what needs to be done to create the best experience for the athletes.”

Just looking at the figure skating numbers shows the potential of what the National State Games can be, he said. Between 800 and 1,000 figure skaters will compete during five straight days in Lincoln.

There will be more than 50 sports in 2017, Englebarts said, and the event will see more than 40 in 2015, including the introduction of baseball.

Michigan also has an added benefit: Canada. The inclusion of Ontario Games could add a unique “Canada versus United States” twist to the competition. Engelbarts said Canada holds provincial games with athletes progressing to the Canada Games. The winners are the country’s Olympic athletes.

When the U.S. Olympic Committee originally gathered governors decades ago to discuss the idea of state games, Engelbarts believes this was their intention, as well. Now, however, the professional leagues and athletes have made the state games obsolete in that model, and it has become more of the traditional sportsmanship idea.

The contract negotiations for holding the 2017 State Games of America here will run through the end of the year; after that, Engelbarts will have a better idea of what the event will cost and what it will take to plan it. He said the plan is to have the opening ceremony at Van Andel Arena and to house as many sports as possible at DeVos Place.

“Anytime you start something, you want to reach the top,” Engelbarts said. “The national congress has seen how far we’ve come in such a short time and they can sense the passion and excitement we have here.

“I have no doubt it’s going to be awesome.”

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