To Play's The Thing At the SHOW-ME STATE GAMES in Columbia, some 28,000 athletes compete in 35 sports

August 10, 2003

It was a sticky summer night, one best spent in close proximity
to a ceiling fan and a glass of iced tea. But under the bright
lights of an open-air track and field complex in Columbia, Mo.,
a college town dotted with an enticing array of
climate-controlled malls and cineplexes, more than mosquitoes
were buzzing. Athletes of every shape and skill level were
sprinting, leaping or throwing as an electronic scoreboard
monitored their performances relative to their age groups.
Septuagenarians in sweatbands race-walked just a discus throw
from where elastic-limbed high schoolers long-jumped.
Middle-aged moms socialized at water stations with Lycra-clad
collegians. All were striving, in front of some 500 spectators,
toward the same end: a flimsy gold medal that would proclaim
them Show-Me State champion.

Few celebrate their state games as Missourians do. Conceptualized
by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1977, state games were
envisioned as sports festivals to ferret out promising young
athletes who might one day win Olympic gold. But with national
teams drawing their top talent from colleges, developmental camps
and other pipelines, the USOC has long contributed little more
than a letter of endorsement to states that wanted to start
festivals. As a result the success of such games has fluctuated
with state budgets and governors' interest levels; in some of the
40 states that now host them (down from 45 in 1998), the games
come and go each year like forgettable summer action flicks. A
sparkling exception is the Show-Me State Games, which has grown
like a pampered sunflower since then governor John Ashcroft
planted the seed in 1985. When the festival drew just 600
competitors that debut year, natives dubbed it the No-Show Games.
In 2002 a staggering 28,431 participants turned out for the three
weekends of finals in Columbia, ranking Missouri second behind
New York--a state with a population more than three times
greater--in state-games participation. In finals that ended last
weekend nearly 28,000 athletes from Glasgow (Mo.) to Cairo (Mo.)
converged on Columbia to test their mettle in any one (or more)
of 35 sports.

How has this state succeeded where others have failed? For
starters, the Show-Me Games, which fall under the umbrella of the
state Governor's Council and are hosted by the University of
Missouri at Columbia, are aggressively marketed, both to average
Joes and all-stars. "Our mission," says director Ken Ash,
eschewing any platitudes about the Olympic movement, "is getting
as many Missourians as possible to participate in activities that
promote health and fitness." Anyone with ties to an athletic
organization, from youth-league soccer parents to Mizzou football
fans, receives frequent Show-Me Games mailers encouraging them to
sign up and compete.

Along with typical fare like basketball, soccer and track, the
Show-Me Games menu features activities suited to the everyday rec
leaguer or country clubber, including bowling, table tennis,
miniature golf and disc golf (a golf-Frisbee hybrid played with
discs for balls and waist-high metal baskets for holes). Even
butterballs can battle: In the Show-Me Shape Up, a program added
to the games this year, teams will be awarded medals according to
the collective poundage their members shed between May and

In between competition, the 2003 Show-Me Gamers offered insights
into why so many Missourians--from 87-year-old bowler Blanche
Deal to three-year-old sprinter Camille Porter, from 51-year-old
basketball player John Brown (a former Olympian, Missouri star
and first-round NBA draft pick) to 14-year-old wrestler Josh
Haner, who is afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa and is legally
blind--had joined in the festivities. "We don't have theater and
other stuff that city people have," said Danny Todd, a salesman
from Columbia who ran the table tennis event as one of 800 games
volunteers. "What we do have is big, open spaces, and as a
result, softball, soccer and just about every other sport you can
think of trying."

Janet Ossie, a real estate agent and Boy Scout troop leader from
Troy (93 miles east of Columbia) who competed in the 100-meter
dash and the triple jump, agreed that geography plays a part.
"Well, I imagine that your West Coasters have that
too-laid-back-to-care attitude, and a lot of your East Coasters
are too busy. Here, we're looking for things to do," said Ossie.
"I think you'll find that we Missourians are ultracompetitive."

Indeed, countless competitors lived up to their state's
put-up-or-shut-up nickname, which, incidentally, was popularized
by turn-of-the-century congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who
once trumpeted, "Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies
me. I'm from Missouri. You have to show me." Ossie, who was
competing as a way to drive home the lessons of physical fitness
she preaches to her 11-and 12-year-old Boy Scouts, spent the
better part of the spring practicing the triple jump--which she
had attempted in competition only once before the 2003 Show-Me
Games--along a long carpeted hallway in her office. In Columbia,
wearing '70s-era tube socks and a determined expression, she won
the gold among women ages 40-44 in the triple jump as well as the
100-meter dash. "I can't wait to go home and show the boys," she

At a high school pool on the opposite end of town, 45-year-old
Doug Noltie climbed onto a starting block with the same set-jaw
mien as Ossie. Never mind that Noltie, a University of Missouri
fisheries and wildlife professor, had last competed in a swimming
event in high school, that he wore baggy blue trunks while most
competitors donned Speedos, or that his physique was more Al
Bundy than Matt Biondi. "After I had a stroke last fall, my
doctor told me that I had to get in shape," said Noltie, catching
his breath after he thrashed his way to a first-place time in the
100-yard individual medley in the 45-49 age group. "So my
daughter [nine-year-old Brianne, who also competed] dared me to
do this thing. I've been swimming laps almost every day since
December to get ready."

All over town family members were showing each other up and
cheering each other on. After their team was eliminated from
soccer competition, 10-year-old pals Kristin Montgomery and Sami
Scharf sucked on water bottles as they rooted for their dads, Bob
and Marty, who represented the Altered Statesmen, a squad from
Chesterfield (104 miles east of Columbia), in over-40 play. "You
should have seen the header my dad scored on earlier," said Sami
proudly. At a dimly lit bowling alley, the Greenes from Lebanon
(114 miles southwest of Columbia) were rolling their way to a
full collection of gold medals. Twelve-year-old Austin and
13-year-old Asia combined to place first in mixed doubles in
their age group, and nine-year-old Andrew won the boys'
nine-and-under division by knocking down, over the course of
three games, a total of 138 pins more than his average. "You
should have seen the grin on the little one's face when they
handed him his medal," said the kids' mother, Tammy. "We'll
definitely be back next year."

Curt Davison will too. The 78-year-old retired art director
started running at age 50, when his son, then a high school
cross-country runner, said his father probably couldn't run a
5,000-meter loop around their Kirkwood neighborhood. Dad did,
with equal amounts of pain and triumph, and has been a jogger
ever since. Over the oppressively humid weekend on which the
track and field events were held, Davison competed, alongside a
handful of fellow white-haired warriors, in 10 running and
throwing events. As he half-sprinted, half-limped to a 37.20
finish in the 200-yard dash, his favorite and final event, the
crowd shouted its approval. "Same time, same place next year,"
said Davison, who took seven golds, two silvers and a bronze home
to show his family. "As long as I'm still around, I'm going to
stay busy."

As long as the Show-Me Games are around, so will his fellow

For more about sports in Missouri and the other 49 states, go to

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [COVER FLAP] 50th Anniversary 1954-2004 SPORTS IN AMERICA 50 States in 50 Weeks 100M HURDLES Chuck Gendron, St. Charles THIS WEEK: MISSOURI Hail, Columbia! Inside The Show-Me State Games BY KELLEY KING PLUS --Quotes, from Yogi to Satchel --Missouri Sports Poll --Enemy of the Sate --Greatest Sports Moment --Who & Where Map COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN D. LEE/MISSOURIAN (2) TRIATHLON Jennifer Burchard, Columbia COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN D. LEE/MISSOURIAN (2) BASKETBALL Jeff Blauvelt, Linn (left); Terrell Turner, Columbia COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (2) HIGH JUMP C.L. Bruce, Lake St. Louis COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (2) SOCCER Isaac Wren, Ashland (left); Bryson Cannon, Florissant COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO JUDO Donald Russell, Marshfield (left); River McCann, Rolla COLOR PHOTO: BECCA YOUNG/MISSOURIAN GYMNASTICS Mariel Carlos, Columbia COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (2) MOUNTAIN BIKING Dan Jordan, Liberty COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (2) TABLE TENNIS Munkhbold Bayarsaikhan, Columbia COLOR PHOTO: KELLEY MCCALL/AP TORCH RELAY Missouri governor Bob Holden, Jefferson City COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO SOFTBALL Carrie Stuhlman, Palmyra COLOR PHOTO: A.S. WILLIAMS/MISSOURIAN HOT AIR BALLOONING Tucker Smith, Columbia COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO ULTIMATE FRISBEE Peter Linenmeyer, Columbia COLOR PHOTO: ALEXANDER COHN/MISSOURIAN DISC GOLF George Sutherlin, Columbia COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (3) WRESTLING Tyler Minder, Liberty (red) COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (3) HURDLES Chuck Gendron, St. Charles COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (3) JUDO Tim McDonald, Rolla (in white); Derric Winder, Jefferson City TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID E. KLUTHO (2) SPLISH SPLASH Triathletes churned up the waters of Twin Lakes trying to win one of the games' coveted medals.

Never mind that Noltie wore baggy trunks while most competitors
donned Speedos, or that his physique was more Al Bundy than Matt

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)