Amateur athletes from as far away as Hawaii are descending on Grand Rapids this weekend for the State Games of America, an Olympic-style competition that includes 12,000 competitors in 48 sports across 35 venues.
The State Games of America is the culmination of State Games held in 30 states. Like the Olympics, competitors compete for gold, silver and bronze medals. Those earning medals in the individual state games are eligible to participate in the State Games of America, held every two years.
In Michigan, the Meijer State Games of Michigan are held twice per year, once in the winter and once in the summer. This year’s State Games of Michigan was rolled into the State Games of America. So anyone in the state is eligible to compete.
Competitors compete in more traditional sports like track and field, rowing, soccer, swimming, tennis, figure skating, skateboarding and bmx, as well as more unique sports including pinball, yoga, darts and beach wrestling.
“Beach wrestling is an international sport, that has its own governing body,” explained Eric Engelbarts, event director of the 2017 State Games of America and executive director of the State Games of Michigan. “It’s a very quick version of wrestling.
“It’s not about throwing sand in people’s faces. They use a circle ring, wet the sand down and you play to three points. You get those points in one of three ways: one point for pushing an opponent outside of the ring, one for taking an opponent to the ground, and two points if you take your opponent to the ground and they land flat on their back. The first to three wins. It’s one round of three minutes and it’s over. It goes really quickly.”
Engelbarts said competitive yoga is another unique event – and an event that helped Grand Rapids secure this year’s State Games of America.
“USA Yoga is hosting their national championship as part of this. Some of the competitors are coming from as far away as Hawaii,” he said.
Competitive yoga is similar to gymnastics in its scoring. “Basically, you get a set routine, almost like diving or gymnastics, and you can opt to do more complicated poses for more points. The judge scores them off the degree of difficulty.”
While the competitions are held in venues across West Michigan, Engelbarts said an effort was made to create hubs, so athletes and spectators can easily see multiple competitions and interact with one another.
“DeVos Place will be the epicenter,” he said. “There are 13 different sports happening there. When you walk in, there will be stuff going on everywhere. East Kentwood High School also hosts a ton of events, including track, rugby, swimming and basketball.”
The State Games of America also includes an opening ceremony with a parade of athletes similar to the Olympics and will have an athlete village at Rosa Parks Circle.
“Friday is the biggest day,” EngelBarts said. “Downtown Grand Rapids will host packet pickup in DeVos Place, an Athlete Village from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Rosa Parks Circle and the Opening Ceremonies at Van Andel Arena beginning at 7:30 p.m.” The opening ceremonies will conclude in the lighting of the cauldron, signaling the start of the games.
Tickets to the Opening Ceremony are $10 for athletes and $20 for spectators purchased on-site the day of the event (if available). Children under 2 years old are free if sitting on someone’s lap.
Individual event ticket sales can be purchased on-site at varying prices per event. Children under the age of 3 are free. Prices vary and can be found under the individual sports on the State Games of America website, along with venue information and the competition schedule.