by Dave Mlnarik
More than 10,000 Nebraska athletes converge in Lincoln each July for competition in more than 60 sports at 45 different venues. The July family tradition known as the Cornhusker State Games brings folks together from more than 85 counties. Before fanning out to play at 45 different venues, they all gather for the Olympic treatment at opening ceremonies at Seacrest Field.
The parade of athletes into the stadium provides glimpses of diversity and a friendly spirit not found in many of today’s sports offerings at any level. Team sports like basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball and baseball are popular, along with Olympic staples like cycling, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling and track & field.
But outdoorsmen and women competing in archery, fishing and nine different shooting sports show their stuff too, alongside kids and young adults in trendy offerings like BMX racing, jiu-jitsu and ultimate frisbee. Thrown in badminton, chess, fencing, foosball, disc golf, table tennis and sailing and you have yourself a broad mix of ages and interests.
“The variety of sports, and the fact that athletes come in from 298 different towns, are what make the Games unique,” said Executive Director Dave Mlnarik.
“It’s not every day you can drive a half-mile and see people pitching horseshoes, shooting pocket billiards and playing racquetball or coed softball at the same time in the same event, but that melting pot is what the Cornhusker State Games gives you,” he added.
While the variety provides the spirit, 100 sponsors and some 2,000 volunteers power the engine that runs the Nebraska Sports Council, a non-profit organization that hosts the Games without government funding. The effort is worth it from a business standpoint—the Games generate more than $7 million for Lincoln’s economy annually.
But, Mlnarik said, the underlying mission is to promote healthy and active lifestyle choices. The Cornhusker State Games provides motivation for thousands of Nebraskans to get off the couch and off the screen and into the race, or on the mat, or in the pool, or on the pitch, or in the gym or on the range. Whatever the venue, they’re doing their thing.
The 2017 Games take place July 21-30. Online registration and information can be found online at CornhuskerStateGames.com.