ST. GEORGE — With the last volleyball hitting the floor in the Dixie Center and the last basketball dribbled down the court in the Washington City Community Center, the Huntsman World Senior Games came to a close Saturday.
“It’s hard to qualify this year’s Games as anything other than a success,” Kyle M Case, Huntsman World Senior Games CEO, said in a press release. “The weather was fantastic, not too hot and not too cold. The ceremonies and celebrations were enjoyed by both the athletes and the community, and there were so many smiles all around. I’d call that successful.”
But it’s more than just anecdotal evidence that labels the games successful. This year, the event welcomed 11,033 total athletes, a number that rivals the number of competitors at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
There were 213 volleyball teams competing around the county and nearly 800 pickleball players enjoying the sport that the Huntsman World Senior Games helped put on the map. As always, softball reigned as the biggest sport in the annual event, and this year 349 teams swatted it out for gold, silver and bronze medals in 62 different age and skill divisions.
The 2018 games hosted athletes from 32 different nations, including three for the first time — St. Kitts and Nevis, Belgium and Turkey. These new countries bring the grand total of nations represented at the Games over the past 32 year to 80, representing a large cross section of the world.
“We are always so excited with we get to host new countries at the Games. It means we get to share our beautiful area with new people and our mission of fostering worldwide peace, health and friendship continues to expand around the globe,” Case said. “It’s a pretty amazing thing.”
Putting on an event the magnitude of the games takes many, many hands. Nearly 3,000 volunteers help with the event, assisting with everything from welcome bag-assembly to refreshment-distribution to score-keeping and many other tasks.
“The volunteers are really the life blood of the Games,” director of operations Jeff Harding said in the press release. “Without this army of selfless people, we couldn’t do what we do. We’re grateful for each and every one who sacrifices his or her time to help out. It makes a huge difference.”
With so many people, many of whom extend their stay, filling up local hotels and restaurants, the games estimates that the direct economic impact on the community is over $17.2 million.
“So many local businesses tell us that October is the month they break even on the year,” Case said. “We’re proud to be part of that. We make a big footprint on the community, and that comes with some inconveniences, like crowded streets and scarce seats in restaurants, but we hope that the inflow of new dollars and the opportunity to host some of the best people anywhere more than make up for it.”
The big numbers are impressive, but at its heart, the Huntsman World Senior Games is about the individual experience. Sylvia Martin, of Michigan, summed it up perhaps as well as anyone when she said, “Awesome event. Friendly people. I love it!”
The games are over for this year, but they will be back in St. George next year running from Oct. 7-19.