COLUMBIA — As seats filled in the Hearnes Center, the excitement and chatter of the crowd was loud enough to drown the music booming from the speakers.
The Show-Me Games began Friday night with the Audrey Walton Opening Ceremony at Hearnes Center.
The games are an Olympic-style sports parade of athletes. “There is nothing like this in the state of Missouri, for all age groups,” said Emily Lorenz, a representative for the games.
More than a thousand people from across the state came to Columbia to see the start of one of the biggest state games in the nation with the 27th annual opening.
The Hearnes Center had some unfilled sections until the athletes arrived. Jim Riek, KOMU news anchor, was the emcee for the night. He introduced the athletes, led by the MU's Golden Girls.
The athletes, dressed in team uniforms, paraded into the center to the sound of music and the applause of spectators who showed up to welcome them.
Riek presented special guest Ehren Earleywine, the coach of the Missouri softball team and Big 12 Conference Softball Coach of the Year.
Earleywine coached the Tigers to three consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances. This year, the team finished the season ranked sixth nationally, the best finish the program has had.
“We have some great athletes here, some future MU Tigers,” Riek said. When introducing the cities that the players were from, athletes from the city would cheer for their teams. He asked hesitantly if there were athletes from Joplin.
Athletes who traveled from Joplin cheered when their city’s name was called and the audience stood and gave them a round of applause.
Tradionally, the athlete of the year, from the year before carries the torch for the opening of the games. Reese Toalson an 8-year-old from Mexico, Mo., is a swimmer who won seven gold medals and one silver medal last year.
Toalson brought the torch into Hearnes Center and passed it off to Earleywine, who carried it proudly and lit the main flame.
The flame’s light covered the arena as Riek said, “Stay hydrated, stay cool, have a great time everyone.”
The Show-Me State Games run throughout the next two weekends. More than 40 sports will be played in venues around Columbia.