With 32,001 athletes competing year-round in 42 sports, the Show-Me State Games is the largest such event in the nation. The games have been recognized as one of ESPN.com’s “101 Things All Sports Fans Must Experience Before They Die” and are the only state games to have been profiled in Sports Illustrated.
In 31 years, more than 906,800 athletes have participated in the games, and the organization’s new goal is to reach 1 million.
An Olympic-style amateur sports festival, the Show-Me State Games has a mission to provide Missourians of all ages and skill levels with “the opportunity to participate in activities of health, fitness, family and fun.”
The organization drew more than 24,375 participants for its summer competition in Columbia in 2015. In 2013, 111 out of 114 counties were represented by an athlete at the summer games.
With everything from youth soccer and mountain biking to synchronized swimming and gymnastics and an associated Senior Games, media coordinator Emily Lorenz said one of the biggest reasons the Show-Me State Games continue to be so popular is because there is something for everyone.
“People just really enjoy coming back.… We have other generations bringing their kids back to play,” Lorenz said. “We have something for all ages — if you’re not playing softball or soccer anymore, now you’re playing pickleball.”
She said the funding structure — relying on corporate sponsorships, entry fees, fundraising and merchandising rather than state financing — is another reason Missouri’s games have thrived.
Adapting to the needs and demands of participants has also allowed the games to continue to attract new participants from near and far.
While basketball, baseball and soccer continue to be the most popular sports — especially for youths — the organization’s fastest-growing sport in terms of participation is pickleball, which was added in 2009 at the behest of Skip Deming of Columbia.
Over the past three years, pickleball — a paddle sport popular with older athletes because it is easier on the joints than tennis — has gone from 84 to more than 150 participants.
The games’ newest sport is rugby, added in 2015.
In addition to the health and physical benefits for participants, the Show-Me State Games also makes a positive economic impact. Although ice hockey and table tennis are held in Springfield and 3D archery is conducted in Moberly, the rest of the games are held in Columbia. Columbia Regional Economic Development Inc. calculates the Show-Me State Games’ direct economic impact on Columbia and Boone County to be more than $11.5 million, with an extended economic impact of more than $21.85 million.