“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”

Nelson Mandela

I love this quote both for the message and for the extraordinary leader who delivered it. I also agree with it wholeheartedly. Sports changed my world when I was very young, and I have watched it bring change for countless others during the course of my lifetime, especially during my eleven years of service on the board of the West Michigan Sports Commission, the last four as board chair.

The WMSC has had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many in our region over the past eleven years. When I joined the WMSC in its founding year of 2007, we closed that year with 21 sporting events that attracted 33,900 visitors who spent $7 million in the local economy – a great start that has grown exponentially ever since.

Here are some highlights I will remember the most:

  • Hosting more than 700 events – We have hosted 729 total events to date, bringing in 1.2 million participants and spectators who filled 320,000 hotel room nights.
  • Generating more than $300M in economic impact – The estimated direct visitor spending of these events totaled $345 MILLION.
  • Building a championship-caliber baseball-softball complex – The WMSC added a $7.6 million-dollar asset to the community in 2014 — the Art Van Sports Complex, which includes nine fields, a Championship Field, and the Nate Hurwitz Miracle League Field for children with disabilities. In its four seasons of operation, the complex has welcomed 2,557 travel teams and 116,343 patrons, generating $19.5 million in direct visitor spending.
  • Creating a signature annual event — The Meijer State Games of Michigan has produced nine years of Summer Games (the 10th anniversary is in 2019) and five years of Winter Games, promoting an average of 45 sports with more than 8,000 participants of all ages from every county in Michigan – collectively generating $20.7 million in visitor spending.
  • Developing the Transplant Games of America – In 2012, we created this event to carry forward what the National Kidney Association cancelled. The Transplant Games of America has spread awareness of the need for organ donation while celebrating organ donor families and the lives of those who have been saved through organ donation.
  • Hosting the State Games of America – In 2017, we hosted the State Games of America –a first for Michigan – welcoming more than 12,000 athletes (and coaches) from 47 states competing in 60 events at 35 venues across West Michigan. The event attracted 25,000 attendees, filled 5,500 hotel rooms at 30 hotels, and realized $10 million in direct visitor spending.
  • Hosting national events – We continue to win and host national sporting events on behalf of national organizing bodies and rights holders, including National Golden Gloves, NCAA, Michigan High School Athletic Association, Special Olympics, USA Gymnastics, USA Table Tennis, USA Judo, USA Cycling, US Tennis Association, US Rowing, USA Diving, US Golf Association and USA Weightlifting.
  • Annual luncheons featuring top-caliber speakers – As chair of the planning committee of this event since 2007, I have been proud to help host this prestigious annual event that draws sold-out crowds to hear sports legends, from collegiate coaches like Tom Izzo (MSU), John Beilein (U-M) and Brian Kelly (Notre Dame); to noted athletes like MLB Great Kirk Gibson and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. I can’t wait to tell you who is keynoting our 2019 luncheon!

I am immensely gratified by what we have accomplished with this commission, and I am grateful for the leadership of President Mike Guswiler and his amazing team who will continue to elevate this organization to even greater heights of success. I also am grateful to all of the board members who have served with me over the years. What we did together was always bigger than us.

I have enjoyed meeting and working with so many extraordinary people throughout the years on this board. It has truly been my privilege and pleasure, and my thanks for all that each of you has done for the West Michigan Sports Commission, and for this industry that we love. I look forward to welcoming and working with incoming Chair Jim Horman. Let’s continue the momentum!



Deb Kay
Guest Blogger
Deb Kay is outgoing board chair of the West Michigan Sports Commission, a position she has held since 2015.

Latest Entries

The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) is partnering with Celebration Cinema to bring a new sport to West Michigan – and there’s a good chance you know very little about it.

As we prepare for 2020, I’d like to take a moment to review 2019 – it was another great year for youth and amateur sports in West Michigan!