Originally created 07/21/02

Games need change



The second coming of the Georgia Games Championships to the second-largest city in Georgia shouldn't come to pass without taking a second to reflect on the future of the event.

In case you didn't notice during the past nine days, more than 8,000 athletes competed in 43 events. No participation or attendance records have been set, but officials label the games a success.

"I would give the Georgia Games Championships in Augusta an A-plus," said Jeff Seagraves, the event's director of promotions. "There was a lot of excitement about the Georgia Games from the mayor on down."

Seagraves has to say that, of course, and it's more glowing than Juan Antonio Samaranch's "most exceptional" declaration after the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. But the general sentiment is that the Georgia Games has a more homey feel in a smaller burg such as Augusta than it does in a sprawling city such as Atlanta.

Is that enough? Can something be done to add a little more juice to an event that's been squeezed for 12 straight years - 10 of them in Atlanta?

The Georgia Games, founded in 1989 out of necessity to help lure the Olympics to Atlanta, is a noble endeavor. The event survived liquidation after the Olympics on the premise that holding an annual amateur sports festival is good motivation for a population in need of regular exercise and recreation.

"It keeps going as an avenue to promote physical fitness in our youth today," Seagraves said. "Our mission is to promote a healthy lifestyle."

That's a good mission, and one well needed. But that mission could be supplied annually by the District Sports Festivals that are spread throughout the state in 10 regions, fostering regular competition closer to home.

As an annual event, the Georgia Games just isn't special enough. After 12 seasons, the enthusiasm seems a little stale and the event medals a little more common than cheap seats to a Stallions game.

Promoters of the event mimic Olympic traditions such as the torch run and opening ceremonies. They should also adhere to another trait of the Olympic model by coming around a little less often. Every four years might be too scarce, but holding a statewide Georgia Games every other year seems ideal.

Location is another issue. Augusta rolls out the welcome mat as well as any town, but trying to play host to an event of this magnitude can leave some areas a little thin.

The Georgia Games needs to get more cities involved. Savannah, Macon, Athens and Columbus need to step up to help, but holding the entire event in a nine-day span might be too daunting a task in areas where facilities aren't as readily available.

With a little more time to plan and prepare, the Georgia Games could become a truly statewide event, spread across the state and over an entire month. Boxing, wrestling and a handful of other events could take place in Augusta. Basketball and swimming could be handled in Atlanta. Baseball could take root in Macon. Swimmers could convene in Savannah. Track and field could be concentrated in Athens.

Spreading it around and over a longer period would provide more flexibility in scheduling. As good as the golfing gold medalist played, was the tournament a fair representation of Georgia's finest when it coincided with a local Regions Cup event and the state amateur?

Some would argue that the Georgia Games needs no fixing. But a little less of a good thing might make it even better.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.