Meridian Star

Sports

June 16, 2006

Opening ceremonies mark official start of games

Under the light of a fireworks show, led off by a couple of rockets that roared across the football field at Ray Stadium, the 15th annual State Games of Mississippi officially got under way Friday night.

“It was exciting,” said six-year-old Jenny Harper of Brandon, one of the two State Games Athletes of the Year, who helped to light the torch for the 2006 State Games.

The traditional “Parade of Athletes” highlighted the Opening Ceremonies as the participants were introduced under their respective community banners. Perhaps the loudest applause was given to the communities from the Mississippi Gulf Coast which were so affected by Hurricane Katrina. That included Gulfport, Biloxi, Gautier, Bay St. Louis and Orange Grove.

“It’s a good experience,” said Craig Danczyk of Vicksburg, who came last year with daughter, Victoria, who participates in soccer. “All of the good teams are here. Actually, winning the State Games has been our girls’ goal from the beginning.”

It was also a time to reflect. Janice Vannatta, who was one of the original group that got State Games started 15 years ago and later served as its executive director, emceed the program. She reflected on the original mission of State Games, and how it has endured over the years.

“I was the tourism director then, and John Griffing was the chamber director,” Vannatta said. “One day, he said he heard about a great idea that we might do in Meridian.”

Other State Games were beginning in other states, The idea was to provide competition to amateur athletes in an Olympic-style setting. The Meridian group attended other State Games. They then returned home and planned for a couple of years. Randy Hodges was hired as the first executive director and the State Games became a reality. More than 1,800 athletes came to Meridian for the first one. Last year, more than 5,000 attended.

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