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Junior Olympic Games Find Summertime Success

14 Aug, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

We don’t know what AAU’s secret sauce is, but it’s clearly a winning recipe. For the second time in less than a month, the organization has pulled off a large youth event with no snags or hiccups.  A total of 3,000 athletes traveled to Florida’s Space Coast. There, they competed in the Junior Olympic Games for two weeks across 14 different sports.

And for those doubting Thomases who are imagining athletes in isolation, this multi-sport event had plenty of team action. Want proof? Here are the events:

  • 7 vs 7 Football
  • Archery
  • Basketball
  • Beach Volleyball
  • Bowling
  • Footgolf
  • Golf
  • Lacrosse
  • Karate
  • PYFP (explained below)
  • Swimming
  • Soccer
  • Stand Up Paddle Board
  • Taekwondo
  • Track and Field

And make no mistake, they were stellar. According to the AAU, five records (all in track & field) fell during the 2020 Games. They included standout performances in discus throw, shot put and three running events.

Additionally, the Presidents Youth Fitness Program Challenge was held for the first time as part of the Games many competitions. Participants took part in multiple physical skill activities, like jump rope, air squats, push-ups and sit-ups. Each competitor walked away with either a Presidential or National award patch and exclusive PYFP medal.

Because, apparently, making it to the AAU Junior Olympics isn’t proof enough of physical fitness.

According to Florida Today, the four-day track and field event — the marquee of the two-week long national AAU showcase in Brevard County — attracted 2,148 athletes, including 290 teams, from 44 states. There were 661 total heats and flights.

Want some more impressive numbers? The total AAU event might have generated as much as $1 million in revenue for local hotels and $50,000 in Tourist Development Tax revenue for the county, in addition to the economic impact to restaurants, retail shops and local attractions. (The total economic impact won’t be available for about a month; SDM will release this information as soon as it becomes available).

Were there concerns? Of course. But AAU did take precautions, with temperature checks, mask requirements and plenty of instructions listed on prominently posted signage. And the organization’s officials went so far as to not have the pole vault, high jump or triple jump, only because of safety issues with bouncing off and touching the mats, or landing and touching the sand pit area. They also cordoned off various rows of bleacher seats to encourage social distancing.

The event had previously been scheduled for the Hampton Roads area of Virginia – but when Hampton University closed up shop because of COVID-19, AAU found a ready home for the event on the Space Coast.

"We probably had between a third and a quarter attendance of (a usual National AAU Junior Olympics)," Satellite High track coach Doug Butler, the site director who worked with meet director Mark Bailey to execute a near-flawless effort, told Florida Today. "This was so last-minute, so there were no regional qualifiers. But maybe next year (when the ultimate event is in Houston), we can get a regional here."

But kids were happy, and parents were happy. To them, Florida was a great choice.

It was so much fun here," Jeff Starr (Junction City, Oregon) told reporters. "You have a beautiful place. And we got to see a rocket launch. How about that? A chance of a lifetime."

Starr, who came to see his daughter, Calley, compete in the 3,000-meter race walk, added that he had no concerns about the virus that has intimidated so many youth sports tournaments this season.

“The community did a fantastic job,” Starr said. “The people at AAU took precautions; it was all about safety. A great job."

"Given the fact we only had seven weeks to put it all together, I think it went rather well," Mitch Varnes, Space Coast Junior Olympics operations director, told Florida Today. "From the stand-up paddleboard on the very first day to the final day with lacrosse, soccer and flag football ... we got tremendous support from the Board of Tourism, the City of Satellite Beach, the City of Cocoa Beach and the whole community. "It took a lot of people to come together and make it happen. We pulled it off."

And as if the AAU event did not have enough challenges, it had to deal with a day-long cancellation of beach sports when Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaiah came calling. Even that, however, proved to be a surmountable hurdle.

Florida sent the lion’s share of athletes (703), followed by Texas (263), California (134), Pennsylvania (130), Georgia (126) and Virginia (102) – proving the event’s national appeal.

For its success, the 2020 AAU Junior Olympic Games relied upon a collaboration between the AAU, Space Coast Office of Tourism, Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Sports Foundation, School Board of Brevard County, Brevard County Board of County Commissioners, and the Sunshine State Games.

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