By Max Molski, Special to GameTimeCT.com
Twenty-eight years ago, Bill Mudano founded the Nutmeg State Games to break down socioeconomic barriers and bring Connecticut kids together through competitive athletics. Today, that mission is as strong as it has ever been as the 2016 Games promise to attract 7,000 athletes.
The Nutmeg State Games have brought in elite athletes and teams in the past, such as the Trumbull Little League All-Star Team, which won the 1989 Little League World Series behind former NHL standout Chris Drury. Just as the numbers in competitors have risen since the start of the event, Special Events Director Bill Mudano believes the competition has also increased.
“There’s no question it’s become more competitive because the level of athleticism has quadrupled since we started,” Mudano said. “We got good teams when we started, but now we have great teams.”
The top participants in the Nutmeg State Games advance beyond Connecticut. Athletes that medal in 2015 and 2016 qualify for 2017 State Games of America in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The bulk of the athletes in the Nutmeg State Games are ages 6-18. However, some of the sports have “open” and “master” classes, leading to an extended range of competitors.
“It’s unique because how often do you get a track and field meet where you have someone as young as 4 and 81 competing at the same time?” Executive Director Mike Fisher said.
The Games have remained steady by providing about 20 sports in the Games since the inaugural gathering. While Mudano says the Games look into new sports when people lobby for them, the games have continued to make adjustments.
For instance, Mike Fisher and his crew have altered the baseball and field hockey tournaments within the Nutmeg State Games after analyzing the competition throughout previous years.
“[Field hockey] coaches were having a hard time getting a commitment of 14 or 15 kids for a seven-day period and our numbers were dwindling in some sports,” Fisher said, “So we realized we needed to make some sort of change.”
Another adjustment made to the games was the move to New Britain five years ago. Mudano, who is now the special events coordinator for the games, says the transition has helped draw in participants.
“[New Britain] is in a central part of the state,” Mudano said. “They’re very cooperative and they have great facilities.”
Fisher says that the Games have seen an eight-to-ten-percent increase in participation since 2010. Now that the games have reached 7,000 athletes, Fisher is unsure if the Games will eventually reach a maximum capacity.
“How much bigger can we actually get and still run a well-oiled machine?” Fisher said. “I don’t know the answer to that question.”
The fencing and judo tournaments take place on Sunday while the boys lacrosse, boys ice hockey and boys soccer tournaments begin during the week. The Games continue up to August 7 throughout New Britain and the rest of Connecticut. As the Games go on, the mission that started it all continues to impact the state’s youth.
“If we can play a small part in a child’s development through competitive athletics, that really means the world to our staff,” Fisher said. “That’s my drive.”