Utah Summer Games: Soccer participation up, rugby canceled, general outlook good

CEDAR CITY – After an emotional opening ceremonies held on June 11, the Utah Summer Games officially opened play on their 30th year of sporting competition designed to celebrate both a healthy lifestyle and the human spirit.

Once the brain child of Dr. Gerald Sherratt, former president of Southern Utah University (then Southern Utah State College), Sherratt along with Rich Wilson, former director, turned the Games into a reality that has spanned three decades.

The original format of the games had Utah divided into regions, or “pods” as Cedar City Councilman John Black called them, and the winners of those regional competitions would travel to Cedar City for the finals.

As things progressed and changed, Cedar City became the permanent home for the event, which in its 30-year history has grown to include over 40 sports and competitions, ranging from classics, such as baseball, soccer and track, to events like arm-wrestling, moto trials and even ultimate Frisbee.

Today, Games Director Casey McClellan and a team of dedicated staff and volunteers continue to bring a quality sporting event to Southern Utah that, he said, they are always looking to improve and expand upon.

The 2015 games have already seen both success and disappointment as participation numbers in the soccer competition skyrocketed with 22 more teams than 2014’s competition, but, McClellan said, rugby was canceled due to not enough teams registering.

Ed Eliason takes aim during the Utah Summer Games, Cedar City, Utah, June 28, 2014 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, asppix.com, St. George News
Ed Eliason takes aim during the Utah Summer Games, Cedar City, Utah, June 28, 2014 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

McClellan attributes the success of soccer to two things: One, they changed the length of the soccer tournament from four days to three days which, he said, allowed for teams to travel easier; and two, rain.

In 2014, the soccer fields exhibited signs of the drought and were not as green as they usually are. Spring rains this year helped the fields which, McClellan said, are in great shape.

It was definitely a blessing from above,” McClellan said.

Basketball participation is also on the rise this year, McClellan said, especially in the youth categories.

Rugby, however, didn’t fare as well, he said, and although the sport seems to be gaining popularity, not enough teams registered for a tournament to be held so it was canceled.

“We are hoping the rugby community will get excited about it again,” McClellan said, “and come out for 2016.”

Though soccer and basketball seem to anchor the games in terms of numbers, McClellan does not discount the many other sports and competitions that create a complete event.

“The thing that is really special about the Summer Games,” McClellan said, “is that every one of our athletes has the same passion and work ethic – from our 300 swimmers to our maybe 35 weightlifters.”

While 30 years is a milestone to be proud of, McClellan said they are not resting on their laurels.

“We are proud to have been around for 30 years, but each year is just as important to us. We see each year as another opportunity to hold a quality event.”

The success of the Games extends well beyond any playing field or arena. As competitors, coaches, families and supporters descend on Cedar City each year, the city sees a significant financial and tourism impact.

Councilman Black said that the Games’ impact can be measured in four primary ways:

  • Through sales tax – The month of June, which is the month the Utah Summer Games are held, consistently ranks second highest and occasionally the highest month in terms of revenue on sales tax
  • Through the RAP tax – Revenue from the Recreation, Arts and Parks tax is consistently highest during the month of June
  • Through the Transient Room Tax – This newly-implemented tax on temporary lodging has only seen one full year of reporting, but the numbers for June 2014 are far and away the highest of the year
  • Through the volunteers – Less traceable in terms of numbers, yet every bit as viable, the amount of volunteers who show up and help run the games is a true success story of the games

“We have so many good people that get involved,” Black said. “The volunteerism of our community really deserves kudos.”

Utah Summer Games, Gymnastics, Cedar City, Utah, June 13, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Utah Summer Games, Gymnastics, Cedar City, Utah, June 13, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Black was also quick to praise McClellan and his staff for the successful way he said they present and run such a great competition.

Additionally, Cedar City entities such as Southern Utah University use the games as a recruiting tool, Black said; and tourism sees an increase as the city and surrounding area is on display.

“It brings in new dollars,” Black said, “and encourages future visits.”

Black said he is a big fan of the Utah Summer Games and tries to get to as many of the competitions as he can, including some of the lesser-known events.

From McClellan’s perspective, the future of the Games looks bright and though he recognizes there is always something that can be tweaked or made better, he said, the state of the Games is pretty good.

“We are excited,” McClellan said, “we are in a good place.”

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