30 Years Of Show-Me State Games

Sometimes we take our friends for granted.

This month Columbia will host nearly 26,000 friends for a pair of weekends full of fun and games. They’ll stay in our hotels and eat with us in our restaurants, and play in our green spaces. And some of us won’t even realize those friends are here. Most of these visitors are not your BFFs. But every year they arrive like clockwork and stay for two whole weekends.

It has been that way since 1985, when the Missouri Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health started an event called the Show-Me State Games, staging competitive sports for Missourians of all ages and abilities.

Almost from the beginning, the Show-Me State Games became the largest state games in the United States. It still is, and the games are a major feather in CoMo’s cap. But sometimes Columbians become inured to success, and we tend to take our good fortune — and our friends — for granted. We forget that over the past 30 years, our state games and its companion events like the Missouri State Senior Games have added nearly half a billion dollars to Columbia’s economy.

Over the years, those events have put more than a million heads in beds, in desk-clerk parlance.

The Show-Me State Games’ extra pulse of traffic might be a drag for some locals who want to enjoy Columbia all to themselves during the dog days of summer, but from a marketing perspective these games add a jolt of commerce to this town at the perfect time. Our community’s hospitality infrastructure is built for peak periods: Mizzou football weekends, homecomings and graduations, and spring and fall conventions.

For the most part, July is off-peak. Colleges trim to summer school weight, and Columbians become accustomed to less-crowded streets and shorter waits for a restaurant table. That scene changes during the three weekends when our Show-Me friends come to town.

So welcome these visitors when you see them in restaurants. Give a thumbs-up to that van with the big “We’re #1” finger and the “Show-Me or Bust” slogan finger-painted on their windows with water colors. These folks are here for a good time.

They love Columbia. But don’t take them for granted.

Other Missouri communities know the dramatic financial impact when sports tournaments come to town. Springfield. Joplin. St. Joseph — these communities employ staff who work to attract sports events and tournaments to their venues. Tourism marketers in these cities know that when a team comes to town to compete, that team brings moms and dads and brothers and sisters, and they stay for multiple events over a whole weekend. Cha ching!

Sometimes we forget how good we have it here. We might get smug that Columbia’s sports infrastructure is second to none. And we have the extra advantage of location, smack dab in the center of the state.

But don’t take our guests for granted.

Ken Ash doesn’t. He’s executive director of the Show-Me State Games. He and the late Gary Filbert, a 2011 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, worked hard to establish a summer competition that is the envy of 49 other states.

This month, our 26,000 guests will compete in more than 40 events. New to the games this summer are rugby and horseshoes. See the full list of sports on the event’s website, www.smsg.org. And notice the sponsors, too, who look forward to hosting our guests.

Horseshoe pitching hasn’t made it to the world Olympics yet. Rugby is poised to make an Olympic comeback next year. But that’s the fun of the Show-Me State Games; we have it all … competition, camaraderie, … oh, and a torch run.

Columbia’s own Shelter Insurance Co. sponsors this year’s torch run, snaking through eight Missouri cities, and culminating July 17 here at Mizzou Arena during the 2015 Audrey Walton Opening Ceremonies.

If you’re in town, join the 26,000 competitors and their families who have traveled from every part of this state to compete, celebrate good sports, and enjoy our Columbia hospitality.

You’ll be among friends.

John Robinson currently trains by doing 12-ounce curls. See more of his stories on www.johndrakerobinson.com/blog.