Let the Commonwealth Games Begin: Opening Ceremonies spark athletes into action
The Olympic spirit was alive and well in Liberty University’s Vines Center on Friday night as thousands of sports fans and competitors of all ages and specialties participated in the Opening Ceremonies for the 28th annual Virginia Commonwealth Games’ Main Events Weekend.
The event kicked off with a tailgate party inside Liberty’s sparkling new Indoor Football Practice Facility, which sheltered participants and their families from an afternoon thunderstorm before skies cleared up and the athletes proceeded in a half-mile parade down University Boulevard to the Vines Center.
The 10,000-plus participants in the annual Games range in age from 5 to 89 and will compete in over 50 events throughout the year — including more than 25 on this Main Games Weekend, with more than 3,000 athletes expected on Liberty’s campus.
The Games have attracted a large number of youth who, following the lead of Opening Ceremonies’ Olympic Speaker Vernell “Bimbo” Coles, are pursuing their own hoop dreams. Basketball is the multi-sport festival’s No. 1 draw with 130 teams playing on 15 courts, concluding with Sunday’s championship games in the Vines Center. Track and field is also one of the sports with the highest participation in this year’s Games, while powerlifting is also popular and national and world records could be broken in that event on Saturday.
Opening Ceremonies emcee Brett Metcalf talked to athletes as they streamed into the arena, with the interviews aired on the videoboard for all to see.
“We didn’t come here to play; we came here to win,” shouted Sydney Misenko, a member of the purple-clad Gainesville (Va.) Hurricanes 12-and-under girls basketball team.
They walked by posters for the Games bearing the theme, “It’s Your Game, Play It,” testifying to the team pride and self-confidence the Games help foster.
“The Commonwealth Games promote sportsmanship, healthy competition, and personal and team accomplishment,” Lynchburg Vice Mayor Treney Tweedy said as she welcomed athletes to the Opening Ceremonies. “Enjoy your visit, keep cool, stay hydrated, and remember, it’s your Games, so play it to win.”
After the singing of the National Anthem, punctuated by patriotic pyrotechnics behind the stage, newly crowned Miss Virginia 2017 Cecili Weber led the audience and athletes in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative Mark Long delivered an invocation.
WSET-13 Sports Director Dennis Carter then introduced Dan Foutz, first-year president of Virginia Amateur Sports, organizers of the Virginia Commonwealth Games.
“Thank you to Liberty University for the use of the best facilities in the state,” said Foutz. “This is an exciting time and our numbers are up. People are starting to realize this is the place to get your game on.”
Foutz in turn introduced Liberty’s Director of Athletics Ian McCaw, who welcomed the athletes and their guests. “We are blessed with some absolutely incredible facilities for our competitors to utilize, and I’m sure you’ll have a great experience here at Liberty this weekend,” McCaw said.
Carter then introduced Coles, who, after his sophomore season as a point guard at Virginia Tech, played a key role in guiding Team USA’s men’s basketball team to a bronze medal at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. A 14-year NBA veteran whose career started and ended in Miami and featured stints with Golden State, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Boston, Coles was recently named director of student-athlete support and community engagement at his alma mater. In April, the Lewisburg, W.Va., native was inducted into the 2017 class of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Coles thanked the hundreds of volunteers, including many Liberty staff members, who are facilitating Main Games Weekend before challenging the athletes to play their respective sports with confidence attained through hard work and determination to achieve their dreams.
He reminisced about a phone call from his mother during the 1997 season with the Golden State Warriors that revived his career after he had been relegated to a reserve role.
“I was in a slump, and I really stopped believing in myself after all of these years of playing basketball,” Coles said. “I got benched, didn’t start anymore, and then I didn’t get to play. I got a call from my mom who said, ‘I can’t believe you. I’m watching you sit on the bench and you look miserable, you look tired, you look like you don’t believe in yourself. What is wrong with you? Go play basketball (and) enjoy the game again.’ Bam, it clicked. I started to believe in myself and the rest is history. You’ve got to believe in yourself because if you don’t, nobody else will.”
For entertainment value, world-famous juggler Albert Lucas, who holds 24 world records in juggling, dazzled the crowd.
Coles then received the Commonwealth Games torch and ignited a disc held by Lucas, who fanned the flame by tossing it into the air before throwing it from 25 feet over the Olympic Cauldron, setting it ablaze to represent the official start of Main Games Weekend.
Dozens of athletes, particularly from team sports such as basketball, baseball, softball, and lacrosse, walked from the Vines Center through the pedestrian tunnel to spend the night in Liberty’s East Campus residence halls. Many have also purchased meal plans at Reber-Thomas Dining Hall. With convenient housing and dining, Liberty’s campus has provided an Olympic Village atmosphere for the athletes this weekend.
For a complete listing of sports in action over Main Games Weekend, or to view previous results or register for upcoming events, visit the Commonwealth Games website.