The 28th annual Cornhusker State Games began with a unique torch-lighting ceremony as Erika Anschutz, one of the top archers in the world, ignited the caldron with a flaming arrow. The torch-lighting capped a ceremonies complete with skydivers, fireworks, a parade of athletes and a performance by New York’s Skyriders, a trampoline acrobat duo.
Five Husker track All-Americans, including discus thrower Tyler Hitchler from Fremont, hurdler Miles Ukaoma from Maize, KS, long- and triple-jumper Chris Phipps from Patterson, NJ, Crofton native discus-thrower Morgan Wilken and the Huskers’ most recent of 77 national champions, discus-thrower Chad Wright from Kingston, Jamaica. The group also led the athletes in the sportsmanship oath earlier in the program.
The ceremonies, which took place at Lincoln’s Seacrest Field, mark the official beginning of one of the largest amateur sports festivals in the nation. Nearly 12,000 Nebraskans will compete in 65 sports over the next two weekends in Lincoln, Omaha and surrounding areas. A composite schedule of events can be found at CornhuskerStateGames.com.
Officials continue to bolster plans to combat forecasted triple-digit temperatures. Sport Directors have scheduled extra water breaks, and local partner Snyder Industries furnished a pair of extra water tanks for trucks making the rounds to replenish aid stations throughout the competitions.
Anschutz, who won the 1997 Cornhusker State Games Female Athlete of the Year Award when, as an eight year-old that year, she bested all competitors, regardless of age or gender, by scoring 597 of 600. Over the 15 years since, she has risen to international stardom, competing in 21 countries and, in 2011, ascending to the top ranking worldwide among female compound-bow archers.
The Opening Ceremonies was a homecoming for Anschutz, who moved back to her hometown of Grand Island earlier in the week. It was also a reunion of sorts as Anschutz’s co-Athlete of the Year from 1997, Tom McCann returned to serve as the 2012 Opening Ceremonies Parade Marshal. McCann recently retired from a decorated 42-year coaching career at Kearney High School. In 1997, McCann who had continued wrestling into his 50’s, won the Male Athlete of the Year Award by amassing five State Games gold medals and an Iron-Man designation, all while besting competitors 30 years his junior.
The Ceremonies also had patriotic flair with the National Guard Honor Guard and Guard volunteers unveiling the giant U.S. flag while Minden native Laynee Woodward sang the national anthem. Woodward, a vocal major at Nebraska Wesleyan, earned the right to perform by winning the second annual CSG National Anthem contest.
Skydivers included veterans Sonny Bader, Dan Myers, Larry Bartlett and Mike Blackshear, who has jumped in all 28 CSG Opening Ceremonies. The group has achieved a combined 14,117 documented jumps.
Monetary awards were presented to six Nebraska high schools that collected votes as participants entered the Games. The Nebraska State College System, consisting of Chadron, Peru and Wayne State Colleges, sponsored the awards, which were won by Pius X, Lincoln East, Amherst, Kenesaw, Lincoln Christian and Lincoln Lutheran High School.
The opening declaration was issued by Kim Moore, CEO of St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center and Dr. Justin Harris, a surgeon with Nebraska Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine.
Members of Cornhusker Crossfit performed a demonstration of the CSG new sport of CrossFit, which was followed by a mascot rendition. KOLN-KGIN television anchors Kevin Sjuts, Bridget Fargen, Erika Tallan and Chad Silber emceed on the field while longtime Lincoln Saltdogs announcer Chris Lofgreen handled P.A. announcer duties.
Awards were also presented to three families that won trips by practicing healthy behaviors in the Nebraska Sports Council's recently-completed LiveWellNebraska.com Family Challenge. The Bartee family is headed for a weekend at Ponca State Park, the Cyborons from Lincoln won the Wyoming ski getaway and the Else family from Omaha is headed to Worlds of Fun in Kansans City.
The opening ceremonies were preceded by SportFest, where athletes enjoyed a free meal and entertainment, including inflatable games, vendor booths, a dance performance by the HJ dancers, free-throw, field-goal and archery contests and a close-up look at a brand new National Guard chopper, flown in for the celebration. Miss Nebraska USA Amy Spilker and the Husker Women's Basketball team were also on hand.
Officials noted that final entry numbers will likely be up several hundred from the 2011 total of 11,515, citing double-digit increases in swimming, badminton, baseball, bowling, flag football, gymnastics, rugby, bb gun/air rifle shooting, sporting clays, soccer, table tennis, track & field and an increase of 131 in the Games’ largest sport, basketball. Several sports are still open for entry.
The Cornhusker State Games is a qualifying event for the 2013 State Games of America, set for Hershey-Harrisburg, PA in August of 2013. Nebraska is among bidders to host the 2015 State Games of America.
The Nebraska Sports Council, which conducts the Cornhusker State Games, is sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield of Nebraska, St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center, Anderson Auto Group, Nebraska Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine and some 60 other Nebraska companies. Learn more at NebraskaSportsCouncil.com.