When Sandi Hill founded the California State Games in the late 1980s, she hoped the Olympic-style sports festival would become something special, a cool way for athletes from across the state to compete in San Diego County. .
On Friday night during the opening ceremonies at Pechanga Arena, Hill will oversee the official start of her 34th and final games as executive director.
And as thousands of athletes in more than 20 sports parade through the arena, she’ll know her brainchild has become something special and more.
“When we started it was, ‘This sounds really fun, something exciting to do,'” said Hill, who will continue with the nonprofit part-time and as chairman of the board.”And then when you see the kids show up and compete and have a great time doing it, it’s easily addictive.”
Activities this weekend will include events ranging from archery to wrestling with well-known sports like basketball and swimming, as well as more recent additions such as foot-golf and rock climbing. with locations scattered throughout San Diego County.
The youngest competitors will be 6 and under while the oldest will be adults competing in masters athletics. The vast majority of athletes will be children between the ages of 10 and 16.
The list of top athletes who have competed in past games and who have achieved academic and professional success or even won Olympic medals is long and remarkable.
Alumni include Reggie Bush (track), Tony Gonzalez (basketball), Ricky Williams (wrestling), Monique Henderson (track), Ronda Rousey (judo) and Luke Walton (basketball). Hill says hearing them talk about their experiences was one of the highlights of her involvement.
“It’s always fun when we contact them for birthdays and not only do they have warm memories, but they actually remember little details,” Hill said. “Tony (Gonzalez) said he’s met other kids he’s been friends with for years, in college and even when he was in the NFL. Those stories kind of illustrate what he’s about. acts.
Jesse Smith, Team USA water polo player and four-time Olympian, participated in the games as a youth and is now a community advisory member for the games.
“The games are so awesome because they’re really accessible to so many athletes, they even have water polo,” Smith said with a laugh. “I love the diversity of the games and the inclusion. It’s a great way to get a taste of what the Olympics are all about.
While this weekend’s games have a real sense of pre-COVID-19 normalcy, it hasn’t all gone smoothly.
The junior lifeguard competition, which was due to start on Thursday, had to be canceled due to ongoing concerns about poor water quality off the Coronado coastline. But it was a relatively minor hiccup in such a massive undertaking by Hill and his team.
“It’s a year-round assembly process, but so rewarding,” Hill said. “It was a real pleasure to be a part of it and to see it grow.”