It was a hometown affair in more ways than one.
Jill O'Grady just missed her chance to be a Georgia Games torchbearer in last year's Opening Ceremonies in Atlanta -- but got a second chance Friday night as her hometown looked on.
Circling the floor of Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center to cheers and applause, O'Grady and 10-year-old Larry Wilkerson carried twin torches and were trailed by an entourage of additional runners -- the cap on an evening that included song, dance, fireworks and performances by Grammy award-winning singer Peabo Bryson.
Both torchbearers are Augusta residents, and both will compete in the Games: O'Grady will run the 5K race today and Larry will box.
"Last year, I ran behind the torch, which was a real honor," said O'Grady, a flight attendant who was asked to be a torchbearer in 1998 but couldn't change her work schedule in time to guarantee the spot in front. "I fixed my schedule well in advance this year. This is pretty neat. It's more home, here."
The lighting of the Georgia Games cauldron was a fiery display as the torch flames were applied to wires running from opposite ends of the civic center, sending two sparkling balls of flame streaking toward the front stage. An indoor fireworks display capped the evening.
The sold-out event included displays of athletic prowess from area gymnasts, BMX bikers and boxers. Fencing event coordinator Rudy Volkmann -- who pulled double duty as director of the Augusta Jazz Project on Friday night -- put a fencing mask over his dress clothes, picked up a foil and swashbuckled his way across the stage during a fencing demonstration.
"We will leave an Augusta legacy for those cities that want to host the Georgia Games in the future," said Gene Parker, executive director of the Augusta Games Committee, who called the Games "the jewel in the crown of Augusta sporting achievements."
Mayor Bob Young, who also spoke during the ceremonies, stressed the importance of the Games in promoting health and physical fitness, as well as the decision to hold the event in Augusta. This is the first time in nine years of competition that the Georgia Games have been held anywhere other than Atlanta.
Headliner Bryson performed twice, singing hits that included theme songs from Disney movies Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin and bringing athletes to their feet to hold their arms in the air and sway. A performance of the Battle Hymn of the Republic by more than 100 singers in the Augusta Games Choir produced a spontaneous display of flag waving.
The flags, provided by organizers to everyone who attended, were pulled out again during a performance of God Bless the USA by Terry Warren, designed to honor veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf wars.
Athletes stood together to take the Athletes' Oath, promising to respect and abide by the rules and to realize that participation, not winning, is the most important thing.
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