Folks who live in Missouri know the Show-Me State Games are a big deal, but some may be surprised to learn that in the world of state games, it’s the biggest deal. The games, which get underway this weekend, attracted 26,993 competitors in 2004—that was the largest number of the 40 states that host state games. Iowa was the closest competitor with 19,989.

But the games weren’t so popular when they began in 1985.

“It was called the ‘No-Show Games,’” according to SMSG Executive Director Ken Ash.

In 1985 19 events were offered and organizers expected around 5,000 athletes and only 600 showed up. But an increased marketing effort and time have turned the games into what it is today.

Another reason for the games’ popularity is that it offers competition in just about every age group and competition level, which means well-trained athletes and novices can find the event that’s right for them.

“Some of the families plan their entire summer vacations around coming (to Columbia) to compete and a lot of the families will even reserve hotel dates for next year, while they’re here,” said SMSG Information Specialist Angela Rico.

This year two new events have been added—skateboarding and kickball. Yes, the same kickball you played during recess with the big red ball. While these may not seem like traditional sports, the Show-Me State Games is happy to include them, if there are enough people who want to compete.

“Our mission is to provide all Missourians an opportunity to participate in activities of health, fitness, family and fun,” Ash said. And, he added, “It’s just fun and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Opening ceremonies will be at the Hearnes Arena in Columbia and will feature keynote speaker, Mike Jones. Jones was a former Mizzou running back and became a successful linebacker in the NFL. He’s best remembered for making a goal line tackle on Kevin Dyson of the Titans as time expired in Super Bowl XXXIV, which gave the Rams their first Super Bowl title.

The games are played over the course of three consecutive weekends.