Winter Games adds five new sports


Eric Engelbarts has found it’s a small world.

Despite dropping two sports, the Meijer State Games of Michigan Winter Games added five new sports to the annual games that kicked off in January, said Engelbarts, the executive director of the state games.

The main dates for the Winter Games are Feb. 19-21, with some starting in January.

Both the Michigan Speed Skating and USA Weightlifting events have moved to different dates that did not fit in with the Winter Games’ schedule, but both organizers were able to provide new sports.

Sam Parker, who previously organized the weightlifting event, also runs CrossFit Grand Rapids, so it was an easy decision to add the new UltraFit event.

Meanwhile, when the state games were forced to drop the Michigan speed-skating championships — a bidded-out event, organizer Jim Rudicil, who also is director of the Muskegon Sports Complex, suggested adding a luge event. Muskegon Sports Complex will host the new luge event, as well as the new Snowshoe Run/Walk event on Feb. 20 — filling out a “true multi-sport event day.”

Also new this year are karate and volleyball.

Having events at the Muskegon Sports Complex doesn’t put heads in Kent County hotel beds, which is one of the main goals of the Meijer State Games and its parent West Michigan Sports Commission, but for the Winter Games, that’s OK, Engelbarts said.

Early surveys of registered participants show only about 20 percent will stay in hotels at least one night during the event. Engelbarts attributes the smaller attendance to the fact people from other parts of the state are less likely to take a vacation day or plan a trip in-state during the winter.

“The Winter Games are much more local participation than the Summer Games,” he said. “That’s OK — it still fills in a void that wasn’t filled before.”

Participation is a little ahead of last year, despite slower registration for skiing and snowboarding events. All told, the event expects to draw more than 2,000 athletes, a similar number to last year’s.

The lack of snow this year, and the late opening of Cannonsburg Ski Area, has quelled some of the ski and snowboard fever, Engelbarts said. He also said snowboarders are notoriously late in registering.

Participation at the Winter Games is considerably harder to grow than for the summer games, especially for team sports.

“Sports that are big for us are harder in the winter because of school seasons and available space,” Engelbarts said. “We are trending up, and that’s a good thing.”

He added that if volleyball gets off the ground, it could be a big draw in the future.

This winter is an important time because of an event Meijer State Games of Michigan will host in 2017: the State Games of America.

Fox Motors donated a Ford F-150 truck with the State Games brand to drive around the country to advertise for 2017 event, with the first stop in Massachusetts for the Bay State Winter Games, especially the figure-skating competition held Feb. 12-14.

“Figure skating is a huge event in the State Games of America,” Engelbarts said, explaining there are 700 to 800 skaters who take part. “Massachusetts provides a big bulk of those skaters.”

The truck will spend the summer visiting state games and other athletic events throughout the Midwest. Engelbarts said there will be a neighboring-state policy to allow athletes from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to participate in the national games, despite not having their own state games to qualify for it. The policy also will apply to Ontario.

Registration for the State Games of America should be open by this fall, and there is still quite a bit of work to do for Engelbarts and his staff in preparation, such as figuring out the ticketing system for the opening ceremonies at Van Andel Arena, which they expect to be full to the brim.

He said the biggest step will be the fundraising aspect of the build-up, and that will begin as soon as costs for the event are finalized.

“We want the event to be as open as possible with as few barriers as possible,” Engelbarts said.

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