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Inside Events: Meijer State Games of Michigan’s Virtual Games

5 Jun, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Eric Engelbarts, Executive Director

Virtual Games Website

The Meijer State Game of Michigan is hosting its first Virtual Games with running, cycling, BMX, fishing, golfing, rowing, skateboarding and tae kwon do. The Games, which take place throughout the month of June, offer athletes of all ages and ability levels the opportunity to stay active while at home – and to earn a medal and T-shirt in the process. 

Once participants’ results and finishing photos/videos are submitted to the Meijer State Games website, participants will be featured on a virtual leaderboard. Participants in some sports will automatically receive a medal and shirt while in other competitions, such as BMX and skateboarding, contestants submit a video of their best tricks, and those whose videos garner the most likes and reactions on Meijer State Games social media accounts will be awarded cash prizes as well as medals.

Eric Engelbarts, Executive Director of the Meijer State Games of Michigan, sat down with SDM to discuss the event and what organizers hope to accomplish.

Sports Destination Management: Hosting the Virtual Games is a great idea. How has it been received?

Eric Engelbarts: Registration is good – we’re getting some positive feedback. People are saying it’s a great pivot and they enjoy being able to compete. Before we announced it, we did send out a survey to our newsletter list, asking people if they would be interested. Some said they absolutely would, and that drove us to offer it.

SDM: Where did the idea come from originally?

Engelbarts: We’re also the office of the National Congress of State Games and so we’re able to take the best practices from other events, such as the Badger State Games in Wisconsin, and use those.

SDM: You went with eight sports. How did you choose those?

Engelbarts: We were trying to see what sports made the most sense to offer. We came up with those eight because they could be done in isolation or outdoors using social distancing. We’d never offered fishing before, for example, but it is one thing we can do under our current order.

SDM: People really miss being out and competing as a group. Did you get any negative reactions?

Engelbarts: If you looked at our Facebook page, you might see the sad or angry face emojis but those were generally because of the virus, not because of the event. Everyone’s hoping we’re able to get back together to do live events eventually and there are some sports you just can’t do virtually, so that is frustrating for people, but by doing this, we have given people the opportunity to get out and get active.

SDM: It’s also fun for people to be able to compete, even virtually.

Engelbarts: It does provide motivation! Maybe you’re used to getting out and running for exercise but knowing you’re going to submit your results, you have the incentive to run a little further and faster. You still get to compare yourself with others.

SDM: The Virtual Games are open so that people can compete from other states.

Engelbarts: Yes – we just want to keep it lighthearted and fun.

SDM: One of your events is golf. How are you scoring that, since people will have different levels of play?

Engelbarts: People can register and then enter their results: where did they play, how many holes and what did they shoot? We know it’s not comparing apples to apples but we’re capturing the sense of a tournament and of being competitive.

SDM: Were there other events that you considered offering but ultimately didn’t?

Engelbarts: We went back and forth about having some kind of a basketball skills competition, but it would be difficult to have someone try to shoot 100 free throws and record it. We just went with the sports we felt would work best in a virtual setting.

SDM: And it seems to be working.

Engelbarts: It’s getting our residents out and moving. We’ can’t congregate as a population but we can stay active.

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