Sooner State Games: amateur competition in its purest form

Warm-weather amateur sports enthusiasts are already counting down to the next Summer Olympic Games, which are set to get underway on 2012 in merry old London. Not the sunniest of climates, but that's where the next Michael Phelps will makes his or her big splash.

For local fans unwilling to wait until then to get their next taste of Olympic-style amateur athletics, the Sooner State Games will officially light their torch on Friday. So let the games begin " in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Moore, Edmond, Shawnee, Yukon, Midwest City and a handful of other destinations statewide.

The summer edition of the annual Sooner State Games includes close to 20 different sports " ranging from softball, BMX racing and bowling to horseshoes, judo and archery " all played in almost as many different cities and towns and venues. It's the state's only amateur sports festival, and it's coordinated and hosted each year by the Oklahoma City All Sports Association.

Oklahoma became the fourth state nationwide to initiate a version of its own state games back in 1983. Currently, there are a total of 40 states participating in the program.

The event's mission statement is simple: to give Oklahomans the opportunity to compete in Olympic-style events regardless of age, gender or ability. That's part of the beauty of the Sooner State Games: There are divisions and categories for just about every amateur sports competitor out there.

A nonprofit organization, the Sooner State Games has always sponsored its eclectic competition twice during each calendar year, once in the winter and once in the summer. In 2008, the games celebrated their 25th anniversary and the All Sports Association added a Fall Festival slate for the first time, which included flag football, three-on-three basketball and soccer, disc golf and Ultimate Frisbee.

The games are not completely synchronized, as each sport uses its own schedule arranged by individual event coordinators. But over the course of the next few weeks " give or take a few days " the summer competition will unfold in various high school gyms, community centers and public parks all across Oklahoma.

"The whole idea is derived from the regular Olympic Games," said Norman resident Steve Kenton. "This is honest-to-goodness amateur athletics in its purest form. It's really great stuff."

Kenton, 52, has been involved in the Sooner State Games for the past 10 years as either a competitor or a referee in the judo portion of the program. This summer, he is the event coordinator for the judo competition, which is broken down into three age divisions " juniors, seniors and masters " as well as weight classes.

"The Sooner State Games started back more than 25 years ago and they're still going strong. That shows the popularity of this type of competition among a lot of different athletes and age groups. There's something for everyone," explained Kenton.

This year, more than 10,000 Oklahomans are expected to participate in the various state games. "Jay C. Upchurch

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