Nine Sunshine State Games sports in action this weekend
TALLAHASSEE – The Sunshine State Games Sarasota/Bradenton Festival and Swimming Championships in Gainesville this weekend showcase the wide array of sports offered annually in Florida’s Olympic-style Sports Festival.
Athletes will be in the water for Paddling, Rowing, Swimming and Synchronized Swimming, tossing discs on the field for Ultimate and at baskets in Disc Golf, on the court for Racquetball, shooting at targets in Archery and showing off their strength in Powerlifting.
This weekend is the first of two weekends of Sunshine State Games Festivals as the Palm Beach County Festival features seven sports the weekend of June 18-19 as well as the Sunshine State Games Track and Field (Lake Minneola High School) and Table Tennis Championships (Simpson Park Recreation Center, Lakeland). Registration for sports of the Palm Beach County Festival (BMX Cycling, Fencing, Judo, Karata, Taekwondo, Weightlifting and Wrestling) as well as the Track and Field and Table Tennis Championship is available at www.sunshinestategames.com.
A total of 4,273 athletes have already been in action so far this calendar year and more than 10,000 of Florida’s Finest Amateur Athletes will compete in the Sunshine State Games in 2016, the nation’s longest-running State Games, dating back to 1980.
When 324 synchronized swimmers converge on the Arlington Park Aquatic Center in Sarasota, it will be a record number for a sport that has been contested in all 37 years of the Sunshine State Games. Over 400 swimmers representing 14 Florida swim clubs will dive off the starting blocks Dwight H. Hunter Pool in Gainesville. The Premier Sports Complex in Lakewood Ranch will host 22 Ultimate teams over the course of two days on the fields. Nathan Benderson Park will have plenty of boats in the water as rowers from 29 Florida rowing clubs will be in competition on Saturday.
Both weekends of the Sunshine State Games will be recognized as U.S. Olympic Committee, Olympic Day events. Olympic Day is celebrated at events during the month of June by millions of people in more than 160 countries.
The event commemorates the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894 and Olympic Day’s mission, as well as that of the Sunshine State Games, is to promote fitness, well-being, culture and education, while promoting the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.
Athletes of all ages compete, and adhere to the Olympic values, in the Sunshine State Games ranging from a pair of five-year old synchronized swimmers to a pair of 80+ year old archers. Following are the stories of a few of the athletes to watch in this weekend’s competition.
Gainesville Area Rowing athlete and coach Jennifer Figueroa will receive the 2015 Female Athlete of the Year Award at Saturday at Nathan Benderson Park. Figueroa won three gold medals at the 2015 Games and has been a fixture in the SSG Rowing competition for the last several years as an athlete and an administrator. As the coach of the Gainesville Area Rowing team, she was instrumental in the SSG competition when it was part of the Alachua County Festival. She has served as a planner for Learn to Row Day and promotes rowing in the Gainesville area as a summer camp counselor. The Gainesville Area Rowing Club is one of 29 Florida-based clubs competing at the 2016 Sunshine State Games.
Jaden Villalobos, a wrestler for the Calvary Wrestling Club, will receive the Male Athlete of the Year Award the following weekend at the Palm Beach County Festival. He won a gold medal for the second consecutive year in the 2015 Games, winning the Freestyle 65kg division. En route to the gold, Villalobos was undefeated in four matches. He also won bronze medals in the Folkstyle and Greco Roman events in the 65kg division. In the 2014 SSG, he was undefeated in 10 matches to win four gold medals in Freestyle, Folkstyle and Greco-Roman competitions. Most recently, he finished second in the 2016 Florida Folkstyle State Championships in the Schoolboy 77kg division.
Jack Cason, an 83-year old archer from St. Petersburg, will be shooting both days of the archery competition. He set a Compound and Release record in the 80-84 age group at the 2015 Florida Senior Games in Clearwater and was a gold medalist at the 2015 National Senior Games. Last year was his first time competing in the Sunshine State Games.
Bill Kelly, an archer from Lakeland, was the 2012 Sunshine State Games Athlete of the Year and will be competing in events on Saturday and Sunday. Kelly holds two Sunshine State Games records, in the Adult Male Freestyle Event (also the overall high score shooting a 1389 of possible 1440 in 2012) and the Men’s Olympic 900 round record in 2013.
Alexandria Zuleta-Visser, a 17-year old archer from Orlando, won silver in the recurve cadet women event at The 2016 Easton Foundations Gator Cup, held in Newberry, Memorial Day weekend. For many young archers, this was a great experience to shoot on a big stage for a cheering audience.
Kristiana Serbin, of Sarasota, returns as the 2015 gold medal winner in the Disc Golf Women’s Recreational category. Serbin carded a score of 111 at the 2015 Games and recently won the Women’s Recreational Division of the Gulf Coast Open in late March with a two-round score of 153.
Lyle “Fish” Fisher, of Dunedin and Palmetto’s Michael Hepner, were among a group of 11 finishers in the Men’s Advanced Singles Division in 2015 that was determined by a total of nine strokes. Fisher and Hepner return for the 2016 Games. Fisher won the Advanced Masters Division of the Gulf Coast Open in Tampa in March.
Courtney Karolinko, a 27-year old synchronized swimmer from Boynton Beach, will spin her way back into the games. After a nine year hiatus, Karolinko, who last competed in 2007 for the Palm Beach Coralytes, returns with her mother, Jacqueline Barrett, to compete in a seven-member team routine in the 2016 Games. Along with the seven Coralytes team members performing in the water, will be a future synchronized swimmer joining in on the fun. Karolinko is eight months pregnant with a daughter, Aria.
The Whitman sisters, Kayleigh and Brianna, of Lakeland, were Sunshine State Games Synchronized Swimming medal winners for the Lakeland YMCA Flamingos team and are now Florida State University students representing the Tarpon Club. In an effort to restore the club that dates back to the early 1920s, when the Tallahassee university was known as the Florida State College for Women, the Whitman’s are looking forward to bringing back this little piece of the school’s history that chose the tarpon fish as its mascot because of its reputation of being an acrobat of Florida waters.
Information about the upcoming Sunshine State Games competitions throughout the month of June is available at http://www.flasports.com/2016/06/02/2016-sunshine-state-games-press-kit/ in a pdf document that is updated weekly. For results of the 37th Annual Sunshine State Games, visit www.sunshinestategames.com and click the “Results,” link for full results of each of the 28 sports of the Games as they progress over the next few weeks. The Sunshine State Games are presented annually by the Florida Sports Foundation, the state’s lead sports promotion and development organization.