The largest state-games in the U.S. officially got underway on Friday night with the opening ceremonies of the Show-Me State Games at the Hearnes Arena. The games, which began in 1985, have grown from 600 competitors the first year, to just under 27,000 in 2004. That’s more than any of the 40 state games across the U.S.

The opening ceremonies also become quite an extravaganza. As usual, it began with thousands of the athletes parading into the Hearnes Arena and the lighting of the Show-Me State Games torch, much like the Olympics.

Those in attendance were entertained by the Mid-Missouri Highsteppers step team and by the Sky Riders, a trampoline troupe. Miss Missouri 2005, Stacie Cooley was in attendance and gave led the participants in the athlete’s oath.

“It’s a good way to kick everything off; get the athletes and their parents and families in and give them a chance to partake and hear a good speaker,” said Show-Me State Games Executive Director, Ken Ash.

The keynote speaker on Friday night was Mike Jones, who was a standout running back from the University of Missouri and played 12 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker. Jones most notable accomplishment was making what many Rams’ fans refer to as “the tackle”. Jones prevented Kevin Dyson of the Titans from getting into the end zone as time expired in Super Bowl XXXIV, giving the Rams the win.

The Show-Me State Games have had quite an impressive list of keynote speakers in the past, like Bruce Jenner (1988), President George Bush Sr. (1992), Dick Enberg (1995), Norm Stewart (1996), Mia Hamm (1997), Ozzie Smith (1999), George Foreman (2003).

Ash, has had the chance to meet and talk with almost all of the keynote speakers and to a person, he’s been impressed with them. “They’re not only great athletes, they’re good people and they’re interesting to talk to,” said Ash.

The games actually began earlier in the day with soccer, basketball and baseball. The games will run for the next three weekends.