State Games of America Brings Olympic-Style Excitement to GR

Now that the Olympics in Rio have closed, what can we look forward to? I have the answer – the 2017 State Games of America (SGA)! The SGA is the property of the National Congress of State Games, a membership organization comprising 33 states that run events similar to the Olympics called State Games. In Michigan, this program is called the Meijer State Games of Michigan and is a signature event of the West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC). The SGA runs every two years on the odd year (i.e., 2013, 2015, 2017) – and hosts athletes who have earned gold, silver or bronze medals during their state competitions. In 2017, the SGA will be hosted in Grand Rapids, August 3-6 at venues across Kent County.

In 2015, the SGA was hosted by the Cornhusker State Games in Lincoln, Neb. The event hosted 15,000 athletes from 49 states (all but Hawaii). While many of the athletes were from the host state of Nebraska, about 3,500 traveled from around the country. In 2017, I expect about the same number of out-of-state athletes to attend (3,500), for a total of approximately 12,000 athletes (more than Rio hosted at 10,500). In addition, the athletes do not travel alone. Athletes’ parents, siblings and extended families will attend as well, combining for a total of at least 20,000 people.

Unlike the Olympics, the SGA will see athletes who are both elite and recreational. For many, this will be the highest level of competition that they will achieve. For others, the SGA will be a stepping stone for bigger things. The Opening Ceremonies will be hosted at  Van Andel Arena and will be at capacity (11,500 with current configuration) with an overflow area for individuals unable to secure a ticket. Also, DeVos Place will host 12+ sports including wrestling, tae kwon do, judo, karate, gymnastics, boxing, weightlifting, pool, darts, yoga (yes, yoga!), just to name a few.  While we won’t have the budget of the Rio Olympics, we plan to showcase the athletes just the same. In total, there will be almost 50 different sports in about the same number of venues across Kent County.

The planning of such an event does not happen overnight. The West Michigan Sports Commission, Meijer State Games of Michigan and Experience Grand Rapids combined to bid on and win the event against three other cities (San Diego, Calif.; Lincoln, Neb.; and Hampton Roads, Va.) in October 2014. Since then, we have been forming a Local Organizing Committee, recruiting additional sponsors as well as tapping into West Michigan for volunteer support. We also created this promotional video, “Bring Your Game,” as part of a national marketing campaign to promote the 2017 State Games of America.  To pull off this event, we must have total collaboration from all parties to be successful.


With all the planning and effort that goes into hosting an event of this magnitude, I often get asked why we want to take on the responsibility. The answer is simple and leads back to the mission of the West Michigan Sports Commission – enhancing our local economy and quality of life through sports tourism. When these athletes and families compete in the 2017 SGA, they stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop at our businesses. In total, the WMSC estimates the event will bring more than $5 million to the local economy – money that would not have entered our area without hosting this event. And what better way to foster healthy living than hosting an Olympic-style competition in our backyard that gives local and national athletes, both elite and recreational, such a platform to compete? It also will be a blast to watch as a spectator. Think of the sheer joy and excitement you felt when watching the United States compete in the Olympics in Rio. You can cheer on your Michigan athletes on a national stage, right here in Grand Rapids.


With that being said and on a personal level – I enjoy a challenge!

So mark your calendars for August 3-6, and start following State Games of America event activities on our Facebook page and website ( There will be many ways to get involved, including as a sponsor, volunteer and participant. Or email us at or about ways to participate.

You won’t want to miss being part of this exciting event!

Eric Engelbarts II, CSEE, CTA
Eric is event director of the 2017 State Games of America, as well as executive director of the Meijer State Games of Michigan, a signature event of the West Michigan Sports Commission.

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!