Liberty welcomes thousands of athletes on campus for Commonwealth Games
Participants, coaches, organizers, and spectators of the 29th annual Virginia Commonwealth Games — presented by Liberty University for the third year running — were treated to fireworks, flames and other fanfare during Friday night’s Main Games Weekend opening ceremonies at Williams Stadium.
The Commonwealth Games are the largest annual amateur multisport festival in Virginia, fielding everything from archery to paintball to wrestling, and Main Games Weekend turns Liberty’s Athletics facilities into an Olympic Village every summer. Thousands of athletes are in town to compete in approximately 40 of the more than 60 events offered throughout 2018, with total participants expected to eclipse last year’s record of more than 11,000.
Highlights of Friday’s opening ceremonies included demonstrations by 1992 U.S. Olympic wrestler Anthony “Buddy” Lee, now a world-famous jump rope conditioning consultant, and wing racers from Stone Blue Airlines.
After enjoying a Friday afternoon tailgate party inside the spacious Liberty Indoor Practice Facility, which provided shelter from the 90-plus-degree heat as well as free food, games, and inflatables, hundreds of participants representing a wide spectrum of amateur sports formed a parade of athletes into the adjacent stadium. There, they got a sneak peek at the major renovation that is transforming the home of Flames Football into a bowl arena as Liberty makes the transition to FBS status and seeks to become bowl-eligible this fall.
Lee, an ODU graduate and member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame who was twice named the U.S. Marine Corps Athlete of the Year, also served as the opening ceremonies’ guest speaker and encouraged the athletes — who range in age from 5 to 92 — to believe in themselves, do their best, and never quit.
“In my eyes, you all are champions in life because you’re participating in sports,” said Lee, who trained 10-12 hours a day for 10 years to become an Olympic athlete. “Sports teach you to be leaders in life. As athletes, we understand what commitment means. We understand what self-discipline, self-respect, and respect for others mean. We understand determination and what it means to never give up. Have a great competition, believe in yourselves, fight to the end, and live out your dreams.”
First-Person View Wing Racing Association pilots put on a mini air show using drones to navigate through inflatable gates set up at the corner of both end zones. Lee, who served as a torch bearer at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, later ignited one of the drones which an operator navigated remotely to light the Olympic cauldron in an original way.
Wing racing is one of six new events at this year’s Commonwealth Games and Saturday’s and Sunday’s five-lap races are the first in the world to be held inside a football stadium.
“That’s awesome,” said Dan Foutz, president of Virginia Amateur Sports, Inc., which organizes the games. “When you get the stadium full (of wing racers), it sounds like a little Grand Prix race.”
Many of the state’s strongest amateur powerlifters will be competing Saturday in the weight room located in the basement of the nearby Football Operations Center.
“Powerlifting got a little boost in popularity after last year’s event, when some national records were broken,” Foutz said.
On Tuesday through Thursday, the 10 basketball courts in the LaHaye Recreation and Fitness Center and LaHaye Multipurpose Center were converted into 20 pickleball courts with 162 players from nine states competing in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles tournaments. Those courts were put to use again over the weekend, as well as 10 others at the Vines Center, Liberty Christian Academy, and area high schools, to host hundreds of games of basketball, the Virginia Commonwealth Games’ most popular sport.
Saturday’s and Sunday’s scheduled equestrian shows were postponed on Thursday after seven of the horses that board at the Liberty Equestrian Center were diagnosed with Potomac Horse Fever. One of them, 12-year-old Lakota, died from the disease. Organizers are now looking to host that part of the competition in October.
Liberty expects to fill the 25,000 seats in the expanded Williams Stadium when it hosts ODU in its Sept. 1 football season opener and again when it stages the 2019 State Games of America for the first time next summer, when it anticipates welcoming 15,000 athletes and an additional 20,000 spectators from around the country for the biennial four-day festival.