Needing a new location to host the XXXVIII Alabama State Games this summer, Ron Creel called on those he felt most comfortable with.
“There were two other communities who wanted us this year after they heard that we probably would not be in Birmingham,” Creel said. “And I told my staff, ‘No, we’re going to Dothan because I know how Dothan does things.’”
The Olympic-style games annually attracting athletes from throughout the state to compete in more than 25 sports returns to the Wiregrass June 12-14. Opening ceremonies will be held at the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds.
Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville will be the speaker at the State Farm Leadership Summit for the athletes as part of the event. He will also lead the Parade of Athletes during the opening ceremonies on June 12, which includes the lighting of the Olympic Flame and a fireworks display that is free for the public.
The games were held in the Wiregrass from 2015-2017 before going to Huntsville for two years. Birmingham was selected to host the event this summer, but when some logistics couldn’t be worked out, Creel began searching for a new site.
Like before, the event will be a regional one — hosted by the cities of Dothan, Ozark and Enterprise, and Houston, Dale and Coffee counties. Mayors of those cities and county officials were present for a press conference on Friday at the Dothan Civic Center to announce the return of the event to the Wiregrass. It will be the first time Enterprise, which recently opened a new track and field facility, has been included as a host site.
“Those were some of the best three years that we’ve had,” Creel said of the previous experience here. “We had a wonderful time.”
Creel has been president and CEO of the Alabama State Games since the origin 38 years ago. He lived in Wicksburg as a youth and is comfortable returning the event to the area.
“I predict this will be the largest event that will be in the Wiregrass this year, without a doubt,” Creel said. “I hope we can reach 5,000 athletes. It’s not just the athletes, but it’s the parents and coaches and others that come with them. It will be a tremendous economic impact.”
Creel said the economic impact was $2.3 million to the Wiregrass in 2017 when the games were last here.
Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver said it didn’t take long to give Creel an answer once he called last week seeking a host site.
“When I got Ron’s call last week and he explained the situation and said we would like to know if there was interest in coming back to the Wiregrass, I said, ‘Next year or what?’” Culver said with a chuckle. “He said, ‘No, in about three months.’”
Culver then started calling other city and county officials to gauge the interest.
About 30 minutes later, he gave Creel an answer.
“I called Ron back and said, ‘We’re in,’” Culver said. “Nowhere else does it like we do. Birmingham does it like they do, Huntsville does it like they do, Mobile does it like they do. We do it as the Wiregrass.
“Not just these games, but everything we do in this area is as a team and as a region. I think that’s why we’re so successful in a lot of the things we do.”
Aaron McCreight, president of Visit Dothan, jumped on board without hesitation after receiving the call from Culver.
“I said if you called to get a no, you called the wrong person, because it’s always going to be a yes,” McCreight said. “We know we can pull this off. It could be next month and we could pull this off and be the best one that we’ve ever had.
“We view this as an opportunity to showcase our community, but most importantly our facilities. Youth and amateur sports tourism is a huge, huge market for us here in Dothan and the Wiregrass. We’re just thrilled to have the games back here.”
Creel said he has started the process of being able to invite athletes from parts of Georgia and Florida to be included in this year’s event.
“We’ve got permission to recruit in south Georgia, and I’m going to work to get permission to recruit in north Florida to bring athletes in here from those different states and really build this up,” Creel said of coordinating with State Games officials of those states.
A complete list of sports and details will be available soon at www.alagames.com with registration opening in the next few weeks. The various events will be spread out across the three cities and counties.