As the 2020 Summer Olympics’ fate in Tokyo remains an uncertainty amid fears of the coronavirus, a local multisports gathering just wrapped up its 15th edition.
The annual Missouri Winter Games, held over a three-week span in Springfield from late February to mid-March, drew hundreds of athletes of all ages and skill levels to compete in sporting competitions. This year’s lineup was volleyball, gymnastics, racquetball, swimming, trap shooting and pickleball.
It’s the brainchild of founder Jeff Collins, who formed 501(c)(3) nonprofit Missouri Winter Games Inc. to run the event, which began in 2006. The sporting festival was born out of his lifelong love of sports, including years of competing in football, basketball, wrestling and karate.
“I was wanting to do something where we could use sports to try and teach character,” he says, adding honor, integrity, respect and perseverance are stressed. “I’m a huge believer that if taught right, sports is one of the greatest teachers in life.”
The event averages 2,000 athletes each year, reaching a peak of 3,000 in 2012, he says. Average attendance runs between 5,000-5,500. Gold medal-winning U.S. Olympians – gymnasts Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson and Jordyn Wieber, wrestler Rulon Gardner and soccer player Mia Hamm – are among the notables to make appearances.
More than half a dozen venues host the sports, including swimming at Drury University’s Breech Pool, gymnastics at the Springfield Expo Center and racquetball at Missouri State University’s Plaster Sports Complex.
The event originally was going to be named the Show-Me State Winter Games, after Collins approached officials with the Columbia-based Olympic-style sports festival in 2005. The Show-Me State Games officials were initially on board, he says, but the deal fell apart. He cites the reason as bad blood between the University of Missouri-Columbia, which hosts the Show-Me State Games, and Missouri State University. MSU was in the midst of its name change from Southwest Missouri State University – a move he says ruffled feathers at MU.
“It was a blessing in disguise. I went ahead and stepped out on my own and made it the Missouri Winter Games, which gave me free will to do what I wanted,” he says, adding that freedom allowed him to reach out to former Olympians.
Collins connected early on with Lori Endicott-Vandersnick, a two-time Summer Olympics participant in the 1990s. She helped lead the U.S. to a bronze medal in volleyball in 1992 and now works for the Springfield Greene-County Park Board as the Community Sports Development Program director and head volleyball coach.
“I’ve known Jeff since 2005, and he’s always had his heart in the right place for providing opportunities for kids,” Endicott-Vandersnick says, adding she served on the nonprofit’s board of directors for its first three years. “From the inception, I thought it was a great idea.”
Collins leaned on Endicott-Vandersnick’s volleyball knowledge, enlisting her in an advisory role to help set up tournaments. She says the event draws athletes from outside Springfield, which boosts economic development as they play, eat and stay in town.
“It’s great for growing our sports,” she says. “It’s important to continue to bring events like that into Springfield.”
Tracy Kimberlin, president and CEO of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, agrees.
The CVB and Springfield Sports Commission have sponsored the event in past years, dating back to 2006. Declining to disclose the sponsorship investment, Kimberlin says the family-oriented event has an eye on the overall development of athletes as opposed to just athletic ability. Participants come from throughout Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.
“It happens at a very slow time of the year for hotels,” Kimberlin says of the late February and early March events. “Any business that time of year for hotels is very beneficial.”
Hotel room bookings are in the hundreds every year, Collins says, noting 2009 was around 800.
University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center is the primary host hotel, and it’s been a sponsor since the start. With sponsorships typically in the $2,500-$5,000 range, other sponsors have included CoxHealth and Great Southern Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: GSBC).
As Missouri Winter Games’ sole full-time employee, Collins acknowledges he needs to invest more energy into the nonprofit to grow the event.
The events regularly bring in annual revenue around $100,000. The nonprofit’s most recent annual IRS Form 990 in 2018 shows revenue of $103,918.
Roughly 85% of revenue comes from registrations, with participant fees ranging from $40 for swimming and around $100 for gymnastics. Boosting the registrants is a challenge, he says, with so many other events competing for people’s time.
Collins has a lofty goal of 5,000 athletes by the event’s 20th anniversary in 2025, and he also plans to expand sponsorships, including a first-time major title sponsor.
“It’s basically maxing these sports out, is what it would mean,” he says of more than doubling the athlete count. “Everything has to come together as far as venues and availability. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get to that. But I’m pretty good at reaching goals.”
Ozarks Technical Community College is expanding its campus footprint with the Center for Advanced Manufacturing at the corner of National Avenue and Chestnut Expressway.
Becky Thomas, co-owner of Third Street Sportswear, gives her advice for maintaining good relationships with clients. Drawing on her experience working with customers coast to coast, Thomas says equity and fairness are some of the best ways to build trust and respect.
Don Helms, co-owner of Munchie Moe’s, says it's important to know your business and to think ahead of your supply chain. Helms says COVID-19 has changed the way he has experienced business operation. He says foresight is key.
Janet Susdorf, business consultant and founder of Brain Power for Hire, LLC, discusses the importance of adapting and learning from failure. Drawing from the struggles she has faced in her own life as a sixtime cancer survivor, Susdorf talks about when to fight and when to accept change.
Jennifer Charleston, a 20-year veteran of the Springfield Police Department and the only female lieutenant in the department, talks with SBJ’s Christine Temple about her career in law enforcement and her new position in the department as a liaison to the LGBTQ+ community.
Moving from physical meetings to digital meetings can feel like a barrier, but Mackenzie Scherer, an independent technology business consultant, says it can be an opportunity. Scherer says that with good moderation, a digital meeting experience can make people feel more included in the discussion.
Abby Glenn, development director for Habitat for Humanity, says corporate partners are a huge asset to the work they do. Corporate donation matching programs help individual donors feel they are contributing more and help Habitat for Humanity cover the large costs of their projects.
Alex Neville-Verdugo, museum director at the Discovery Center in Springfield, describes the opportunities the Discovery Center has through partnerships with other educational organizations. Neville-Verdugo says the Discovery Center’s virtual learning program reaches across multiple countries, with traffic mostly coming from the U.S. and Canada.
Elizabeth Hurst, business development manager at HR Advantage, says we do see fewer women in the workforce today than before the pandemic. Hurst says many women want more flexible work environments and that is one way employers can capture the female labor force.
Curtis Marshall, CEO of Tie & Timber Beer Company, says he sees work-life balance very differently. When he was younger, he would push himself to take on more and more responsibility, but would stop and put his career on hold for months while living in New Zealand or Mexico, or to start a pet software project. He says he lives by the philosophy of work hard and play hard.
Brent Cochran didn’t think he would become a retailer, but when thinking of ways to keep his young adult son with Down syndrome intellectually engaged, he came across a father and son team that did just that. Cochran, now owner of Al’s Pals Pet Place, says both the needs of his son and his affection for the family dog with a sensitive stomach led him to the world of e-commerce.