Cornhusker State Games Off to Great Start

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The 2012 Cornhusker State Games’ biggest day of competition, with action in 42 sports, began Saturday with an unexpectedly mild and cloud-covered morning. By the time the thermometer hit 100 degrees early in the afternoon, most athletes had at least a game or match under their belts. More than 7,000 athletes took to the courts and fields.

In the revamped 5K race, held simultaneously with the 10K and 2-mile walks through the Fallbrook neighborhood, Lincoln’s Nathan Stack, 27, brought home the overall gold medal with a time of 16:50. Top female honors went to 17 year-old Christy Shuster, also of Lincoln, with a time of 20:47.

Omaha’s Sam Pawasker, 11, showed up older competition in table tennis throughout much of the day, winning a gold medal in the 13 & under division and a silver in the 17 & under. Table tennis, which attracted a five-year participation high with 91 players, resumes Sunday at Goodrich Middle School in Lincoln.

In slowpitch softball, Omaha’s Dunkin Donuts team, which competes in Omaha’s 50-and-older league, did the reverse, showing up younger competition with a pair of victories in the men’s D division. The team’s 54 year-old pitcher Virgil Vaughn of LaVista joked that the younger opponents were probably intimidated by his curly white hair.

Vaughn and teammate Scott Emery each have interesting family connections within the State Games. Emery’s brother Doug is the CSG boxing director and a member of the Nebraska Sports Council Board. Vaughn’s son-in-law Dave Sutko made headlines in 2009 when he participated in 25 events to celebrate the Games’ silver anniversary.

Family participation was a recurring theme at many competition venues. Larry Harnett, 62, of Hastings, brought the two youngest competitors, his grandkids 13 year-old Cierra Allsman and 11 year-old Ian Reents. Grandpa fell short of earning hardware, but Ian edged out Cierra for the junior singles gold.

Callie Rathje, 16 of York, walked the golf course at Holmes, with mom and dad teaming up on caddie duties. While not happy with her play, Rathje was thankful for the family time and a relatively cool morning.

Senior golfer Jack Wickes, 63, of Omaha, made a successful comeback from injury and a homecoming of sorts.

“I learned the game from Bob Schuchart here in Lincoln. I played in the Games for eight straight years before my arthritis started acting up. I probably won’t win, but it feels good just to compete again,” Wickes said.

Athletes and volunteers at most of the venues were still buzzing about the dramatic torchlighting at Friday’s Opening Ceremonies. Grand Island native Erika Anschutz took a break from her worldwide competition schedule to ignite the Games caldron with a flaming-arrow archery shot.

Executive Director Dave Mlnarik praised the work of the volunteers, including medical and communications teams that made the rounds throughout the day replenishing ice and water supplies at all venues.

“We were fortunate that the heat waited about four hours today. We’re also pretty lucky that the humidity is lower than usual so the heat index isn’t what it’s been in the past. We’ll be prepared to add water breaks and shorten games if we’re not so lucky tomorrow,” Mlnarik said. The forecast calls for a high of 105 Sunday.

Overall participation stands at 11,485 with several sports still open for registration. Officials were confident that total participation will surpass the 2011 number of 11,511 by the end of first-weekend competition. Competition resumes Sunday in 29 sports.

Courtesy: Nebraska Sports Council