Thirty-five of our nation’s 50 have the three-day state athletic games, increasing each year in popularity as the country grows grayer. Guess which one has the most participants in relation to its population?
That’s right, it’s our own Montana’s Big Sky State Games. Yep, we hunt and fish, farm and ranch, go to church, then gamble. But we like our sports too. They keep us healthy. And social. Even neighboring states without Games of their own want to get in on the action. Montana says come on over, the more the merrier.
The Games are set to start this Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Billings Senior High School on Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium on Third Street West and Grand Avenue.
This year’s star athlete to light the torch will be Meb Keflezighi. The Olympic marathon silver medalist was born in Africa, but came to the United States young. Part of the opening ceremonies are the traditional Parade of Athletes, 5K run, Fitness Walk and Fun Fair, before the state’s best young four-lappers, both men and women, try to etch their name as the Game’s best miler. Spectators can pay $5 to see Keflezighi and the locals, which includes a free shuttle over from the YMCA, where parking is ample.
More than 10,000 participants, ranging from ages 4 to 90, will compete this year in 37 sports ranging from archery to wrestling. Another 2,500 will volunteer to help run the events this weekend, held mostly in Billings sites, but over in Laurel and Huntley as well.
Karen Sanford Gall heads the Big Sky State Games. The modest offices at the middle Transwestern Building on North 31st Street are borderline frantic days before Friday’s kickoff. Metals, T-shirts, brochures, event applications and posters are strewn about, mostly on the floor, as college interns and a staff of five jump from room to room knocking off final preparations. They cheerfully take last-minute calls as competitors and volunteers jump on board for the 2013 events.
It’s the biggest week for the nonprofit organization, commanded to get Montanans to compete, but perhaps more so, to just move, and eat right. Stay healthy and be a good person.
If there’s a better example than Gall, then let us know. She’s directed the Games since 1996, after working the Wyoming Cowboy State Games before that.
She was born in Cut Bank, but her father, who worked in the oil industry, moved the family to Casper, Wyo., where Gall took to running. She graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1982, where she ran cross-country, along with track and field.
Gall gained all-conference and All-American status in middle distance events while a Cowgirl. Later she lengthened to the marathon, competing in four Olympic Trials, in addition to the famous New York and Boston 26.2-milers. Her personal best was 2:44.
Those in Montana road racing circles recognize her as one of the best over the last 20 some odd years, although she lightened her training recently to spend more time watching sons Carter and Haden run and play Little League baseball.
The family, which includes husband Daniel, also enjoys camping in Montana’s highlands. Staying active as a family unit mirrors a main mission of the Big Sky State Games.
“I think Montanans pride themselves on participation,” Gall said when asked why the Games have been a success going on now 28 years. “Families do the Games year after year. It’s just become part of their summer activity.
“Also what I most enjoy is seeing people set a goal, like running a half-marathon, and the Games helping people reach a goal that is out of the ordinary of their lives. People go to work, we do our job, it’s our usual life. The Games are something different, and I think our staff treasures that we help people achieve that.”
Mark Canton, 61, enjoys playing co-ed volleyball with his 21-year-old daughter, Alex, in the Games. Three dads and three daughters make up their team, Young Guns and Old Farts, who will compete in their sixth year on Saturday at Billings Senior High School.
Playing alongside his daughter is a joy. But for Canton there’s more.
“The concept of the Big Sky State Games is really nice. It’s a big group of people that get together every year who really like sports. The atmosphere is one of really having fun while you are doing it. The competition is there for sure, but you get to meet people every year that you get to know and see that one time during the year,” Canton said.
For more information on the Montana’s Big Sky State Games, see the schedule in this issue of the Outpost or visit www.bigskygames.org.