BY GENE NARDI
Last weekend, the Palm Beach County Convention Center was the venue for the June series of the 36th annual Florida Sunshine State Games.
Thousands of competitors gathered at the convention center to compete in judo, fencing, wrestling, karate, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting and taekwondo.
The Okeeheelee Park BMX track was the host venue for the BMX championships.
Competitors of all ages and skill levels participated in the various events. Championship events in a total of 28 sports are offered seasonally throughout the year from February to November.
The Sunshine State Games are the nation’s longest-running state games event, with more than 200,000 amateur athletes competing since 1980. The games offer Olympic-style competition, allowing athletes to develop their skills and abilities. The games have also provided a gateway for many to pursue their competitive dreams at the national and international levels.
Though many of the competitors are from around the state, several local athletes and clubs participated in the games. The Wellington Warriors Wrestling Club and the PAL Wrestling Club brought several youth wrestlers to compete.
Ten-year-old Gian Ortiz of the Warriors competed in the 60-pound weight class and brought home a gold medal in freestyle. Seminole Ridge High School wrestler John Arnold also won a gold medal in the 145-pound weight class.
“I’m hoping to qualify for states and help the team to win a district title next year,” said Arnold, who will be returning to the mat for the Hawks as a junior in the fall.
Evan Pena and Max Griner took the mat for the PAL in the 65-pound weight class, under 11 division.
Fencing is typically dominated by clubs out of the area, but a local Palm Beach County fencer from Delray Beach showed her commitment to the sport by traveling to train at the Masters Fencing Club in North Miami Beach. Olivia Varughese competed in the youth under 14 women’s division. She sliced through most of the competition and eventually won the bronze medal.
“I like fencing because it challenges you mentally, as well as physically,” Varughese said. “You have to have a strong mind in fencing.”
The Okeeheelee Park BMX track saw plenty of action, especially from local racers competing in various moto-divisions.
Matthew Graves won a gold medal in the 36-40 intermediate class. Daulton Payne of Royal Palm Beach grabbed a gold medal in the U16 expert class. Anthony Dean of Wellington earned a gold medal in the U9 intermediate class. Evan Esposito, Nixon Frye and Mason Kirner all raced for Team Relentless in the U12 class and train at the host venue.
“It was great to see the turnout we had, being Father’s Day weekend,” event coordinator and track operator Jeff Esposito said.
For more information on the Florida Sunshine State Games, as well as full results, visit www.flasports.com.
ABOVE: Daulton Payne of Royal Palm Beach leads the pack at the Okeeheelee track.