Martial arts competitors, others hit capital for W.Va. Games
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While much of the state was tuning in to the West Virginia University vs. Marshall University football season opener Saturday afternoon, Charleston was drawing crowds for a different kind of sports competition.
Brazilian jujitsu, beach wrestling, cornhole, Zumba and more took over Kanawha Boulevard and Magic Island as part of the fourth annual West Virginia Games, sponsored by the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The event is the largest collection of sanctioned sports in the state and brought in nearly 500 spectators, despite stormy weather, according to event coordinator Butch Hiles.
More than 200 martial artists from across the state competed in the jujitsu and submission wrestling state championship Saturday afternoon.
"It's not just a great opportunity for the competitors to test their own strengths and go against other skilled people, but it's also a chance to show the community what jujitsu is really about," said Hiles, who owns the Brazilian jujitsu and mixed martial arts training facility on Summers Street.
About 40 of the competitors in Saturday's championship were Hiles' students, and he hopes the event will build awareness about the often-misconstrued contact sport.
"Jujitsu is a self-defense art that focuses on holds and joint locks. They're not out here to beat each other up - they are learning how to defend and protect themselves," he said. "It does a lot of good off the mat, too. Kids who have been bullied at school and have low self-esteem come out of here holding their head high. Knowing you can take care of yourself is a powerful feeling."
Michael Mobley, 25, of Nitro, is a white belt who competed for the first time Saturday.
"It's a lot of fun, but it can also be very hard. You have to train every day," he said. "For me, it's all about your mind-set. You can't go in thinking you've already won. It's about focus."
Also as part of the West Virginia Games, the Charleston Distance Run kicked off at the Capitol at about 7 a.m. Runners participated in a 15-mile race, a 5k race and 5k and 10k walks.
A bench-press challenge and a strength challenge hosted by Charleston's Phil Pfister, named the World's Strongest Man in 2006, also was featured, in addition to basketball and volleyball tournaments.
The event has always been held on Labor Day weekend but will move to the third weekend of August starting next year -- the same weekend as Charleston's annual SportsFEST, according to Samantha Carney, convention sales and special events manager of the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau.
SportsFEST hosts a national watercraft competition on the Kanawha River and other professional sports tournaments.
Carney said she was pleasantly surprised by Saturday's turnout, which she said made an economic impact on Charleston of about $450,000.
"We knew these athletes had a strong following, but a lot of people travel during Labor Day weekend, then you have the WVU-Marshall game and bad weather on top of that," she said, "but they didn't seem to care about all that. We saw a lot of spectators."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.