Grand Canyon State Games Start Jan. 11

First of 39 events begins at WestWorld

Youth soccer is among the sports offerings at the Grand Canyon State Games. Payson has traditionally had good showings in track and field, shooting and soccer.

Youth soccer is among the sports offerings at the Grand Canyon State Games. Payson has traditionally had good showings in track and field, shooting and soccer. |

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Calling all weekend warriors and amateur athletes — it’s time to etch another chapter into Payson’s storied Grand Canyon State Games history book.

The chance to showcase athletic and sports skills takes center stage at the 17th annual winter games — the nation’s largest amateur winter sports festival.

The first of the 39 events — equestrian — tips off Jan. 11 at WestWorld in Scottsdale.

Events continue, mostly on weekends, until April 26 when the games wrap-up with baseball, curling and the Desert Challenge.

The challenge, which is open to those 6 years of age and older with a physical disability, includes competition in aquatics, weightlifting, track and field and archery.

Most all sports competitions are conducted in age or skill-level groups.

For example, mountain bike competitors will be classified according to skill — beginners, sport or expert — and in one of six age groups beginning at 14 years and continuing to 50-plus.

Some of the more popular sports offered are track and field, basketball, golf, 4-on-4 flag football, shooting, archery, golf, youth soccer and bowling.

There are also several unique sports including squash, rock climbing, arm wrestling, jump rope, beanbag toss and dodgeball.

While most sports are contested at various Valley-area venues, those interested in skiing and snowboarding will compete March 7 and 8 at the Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff.

In past winter games, Payson has traditionally made good showings in track and field, shooting and soccer.

With a wide range of sports offerings sure to pique the interest of amateurs from around the state, executive director of the state games, Erik Widmark, is encouraging athletes of all abilities to enter.

“Get up, get active, get involved, get healthy,” he said. “This is a family affair.”

Widmark also promises the games will provide a chance to compete in an “Olympic style atmosphere.”

Payson history

Rim Country athletes first made their mark on the Grand Canyon Games sports scene in the fall 2000, when the Tonto Apache track team was chosen the Grand Canyon State Games Male and Female Athletes of the Year.

In the previous eight-year history of the GCS games, individuals were chosen as athletes of the year.

But Widmark and his staff broke with tradition and opted to give the two awards to the Tonto Apache boys and girls team.

The reason officials decided to tap the two teams, Widmark said, was partly due to the success of the Tonto Apache contingent at both the Tucson and Tempe games held the previous summer.

“Winning is important; they’ve won something like 100 medals over the past four years, but we also have a rather stringent criteria (for the honorees) which includes high character and morals,” Widmark said at the awards ceremony.

A year later, then-Tonto track and field coach Billy Joe Winchester received the Arizona Governor’s Outstanding Leadership Award for his role in leading the team to success in the Grand Canyon State Games.

In 2007, 77-year-old Payson resident Tom Cooka received the prestigious APS Power Player Award for his athletic accomplishments in the Grand Canyon State Games and in the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games.

Cooka was a frequent race winner in long-distance running events in both sets of games.

In 2001, with officials scouring the state for a wrestling venue, Payson stepped up to host the games in Wilson Dome.

Entry books with complete listing of sports, playing sites and registration forms for this year’s games are available at the offices of the Payson Roundup, 708 N. Beeline Highway.

More information is also available by calling (480) 517-9700 or online at www.gcsg.org.

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