COLUMBIA — Jim Larue remembers deciding one year, even though there couldn’t be competition, there would still be a winner.
As commissioner for tennis in the Show-Me State Games, Larue was in charge of making sure the weekend competition ran smoothly. With days of rain preventing the tennis players from competing, he decided to flip coins to determine winners, ending the weekend on a light note. He doesn’t remember what year this happened, perhaps because he has been a commissioner for 24 years.
There is at least one commissioner for each of the 40 sports in this year's Show-Me State Games, which end Sunday. They request the space, equipment and volunteers needed for each event as well as organize brackets, determine competition times, and coordinate with participants. The position is normally held by a person active in the sport. Besides running the games, commissioners build relationships with competitors.
Larue said he finds the position enjoyable because he gets to connect with people from all around Missouri. He has seen multiple generations of tennis players compete in the Show-Me State Games and looks forward to seeing familiar faces. Many of the competitors that travel to Columbia for the games are a special type of once-a-year friend.
“A couple from Grain Valley came to compete every year and when their children were old enough, they played too. Now, their children are out of college, and I’m sure in a couple of years, I’ll be seeing their grandchildren play,” Larue said.
“Competitors come all the way from the bootheel to the northwest corner of the state,” said Joe Garcia, the commissioner for powerlifting for more than 15 years, about the competitors he oversees. “This year was a really great one. Everything went fast and smooth and we even got a thank-you note.”
Each day as commissioner starts at 7 a.m and is a madhouse, Garcia said. He works until 4 p.m. without much of a break. He describes the weekend as “fast and furious.”
“It’s a panicked pace the whole day, but I do look forward to it.” he said.
For other commissioners, the games are much more relaxed.
Kathy Sanford, owner of Show-Me Gymnastics is in her second year as gymnastics commissioner and plans to do it as long as she’s happy in the job.
“I have a ball doing it,“ Sanford said. “The environment is really fun and very relaxed.”
Sanford has the opportunity to reconnect with people who have been away from the sport for several years and have decided to come back because the Show-Me Games are open to most anyone who wants to compete.
“This year we have a 26-year-old mother of one,” Sanford said. "When you get out of it competitively, there is usually not a place to compete after. It’s great to see so many people come out just for the love of the sport.”
William Todd, 23, remembers when as a child he would help out his father Dan Todd run the table tennis competition for the Show-Me State Games. Eventually, William Todd briefly became a commissioner himself.
“My dad would give me 20 bucks to help him as commissioner, which seemed like a lot of money when I was 8 and 9 years old,” William Todd said. “It was really a great time.”
Dan Todd, who was a commissioner for the Show-Me State Games from 1986 to 2006, said he doesn’t miss the administrative aspects of organizing the event, but rather the people he met and spent time with during that period. After each Saturday of the event, Dan Todd would go out to dinner and talk with many of the out-of-town table tennis players.
“It was like a family atmosphere, we were all in it together,” Dan Todd said. “The level of the competitor didn’t matter, we were all friends.”