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Commonwealth Games Return to Roanoke Valley

Pete Lampman is president of Virginia Amateur Sports.

With several events already completed, and this weekend’s high school baseball showcase at Kiwanis Field, the Coventry Commonwealth Games are indeed underway. Between now and next week, the “Main Games Weekend,” from July 15-18, about 10,000 athletes and their families will descend on the Roanoke Valley to take part in competitive events that range from basketball to badminton, from arm wrestling to chess and disc golf.

One highlight of the Commonwealth Games, which have been held in Roanoke for all 21 years: an Olympic-style opening ceremony, complete with a parade of athletes, keynote speaker and a featured musician.

The opening ceremonies take place at the Roanoke Civic Center Coliseum on Friday, July 16, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults, students 6-17 are $3 and five & under are free. American Idol finalist Bucky Covington (season 5) will perform a set at the ceremony and short track speed skater JR Celski is the motivational keynote speaker. The Washington State native spent time away from home as a youngster, sacrificing family life in order to train as a speed skater.

Celski also overcame a serious injury caused by an errant skate to win two bronze medals at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In the past, the Coventry Commonwealth Games have also featured Olympic gold medalists from a variety of sports. New this year is a tailgate party beforehand, held indoors at the Special Events Center from 5-7 p.m. Games, food and other activities will take place at the tailgate, which is open to everyone with opening ceremony tickets.

Judo (held in Norfolk) and “Ultimate Frisbee” are among the handful of new sports being staged this year. The competitive Frisbee event, to be held at Green Hill Park, is an activity that is now “played a lot in college” according to Virginia Amateur Sports president Pete Lampman.

Registration in many of the individual sports “happen to be up,” added Lampman. Record numbers turned out for the hill climb in Roanoke last weekend. He wanted to use the new Green Ridge Recreation Center for part of the 3-on-3 basketball tournament, but the Roanoke County facility is so busy that couldn’t be worked out. Even so, Lampman hopes to steer participants to Green Ridge for recreational swimming after their events are over for the day.

VAS is the Roanoke-based group that stages the Commonwealth Games and has managed to keep them in the Star City year after year, even as other cities have made pitches, recognizing the multi-million dollar impact every year from those that come here to eat, sleep and play.

For those interested in getting a head start on the Main Games weekend, the baseball competition at Kiwanis Field this weekend will feature four teams of Virginia high school juniors and seniors, split up by region.  Dozens of college coaches and pro scouts will be in attendance, often with radar guns in hand to measure a pitcher’s speed.

There is an impressive level of baseball talent in the Commonwealth – current major league standouts like David Wright, Ryan Zimerman, the Uptons (BJ and Justin) and Brandon Inge played high school ball in Virginia. Some appeared at the Commonwealth Games, and played at the former home of Salem’s pro baseball team.

Lampman was still looking for “a few more” volunteers that could help at the opening ceremonies as of early this week. VAS, which features a small handful of paid staff members, leans heavily on volunteers for the Commonwealth Games and other events it stages during the year. “Things are going well – we’re pleased,” said Lampman of the upcoming competition scheduled for the Main Games weekend.

(See for more information and a schedule of events)

By Gene Marrano
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