Introducing the U of O Winter Games XXXIII

Thursday, January 24, 2013
It all started with a couple local guys and the organization of a small broomball tournament. Over 30 years later, with the support of hundreds of community members, the small broomball tournament in 1981 has turned into an annual winter festival drawing thousands of people from throughout the Midwest. The University of Okoboji Winter Games is now a weekend full of indoor and outdoor events for all ages.

President Ronald Reagan was beginning his first term and singer Justin Timberlake was a newborn baby when a handful of creative Lakes Area residents broke out the brooms, swept out cabin fever and launched what is now known as the University of Okoboji Winter Games.

The 33rd edition kicks off during the weekend of Jan. 25-27, with food, competition and festivities for all ages.

Event co-chairs are Erin Roe, president of Mammoth Marketing, and Jeremy Morrison with Bonfire Web Company. Planning is under way well before cold temperatures set in.

"The Winter Games Committee has quite a few planning meetings leading up to the event (each year)," Roe said. "The (Iowa Great Lakes Area) Chamber takes care of the day-to-day operations of the event that includes mailing entry forms, getting permits for the events and the fireworks, ordering trophies, picking the clothing logo and designs and placing clothing orders to sell to the public. It really takes three to four months of concentrated planning to ensure the event goes smoothly."

Three new events have been added to the 2013 schedule.

A chess tournament will be held, Saturday, Jan. 26, in the Arnolds Park Public Library, and Northwest Iowa Homebuilders will host a snow sculpture contest throughout the weekend. The third new addition is the U of O Winter Games Blood Drive sponsored by the Blood Bank on Friday, Jan. 25, with donations benefiting the LifeServe Blood Center.

"County Music" has been pegged as the theme for the always popular Chili Cook-off. Each participant is encouraged to put their own country spin on their booth.

Okoboji Brewing Company will once again be the main sponsor for the Games. In addition, Iowa Craft Beer Tent will have a beer truck with six of Okoboji Brewing Company's beers on tap along with some additional craft beers. The truck will be parked outside of the State Welcome Center during the weekend.

Johnson says Winter Games clothing is still on sale and clothing revenue is the biggest fundraiser for the Chamber each each year - purchases cover most of the cost of the Winter Games. The clothing can be purchased at the State Welcome Center in Arnolds Park, the Buy-Rite and Three Sons in Milford and Hy-Vee and Fareway in Spirit Lake. All clothing will be pulled from the retail stores during the weekend and placed at the Chili Cook-Off, at the Sweet Classic and Shopping Galleria from 1-4 p.m. Saturday and at the Welcome Center all weekend.

Winter Games' 33 cheerleaders were announced on Jan. 8 and were introduced at the annual Cheerleader dinner Jan. 15 at the Boji Bay Pavilion in Milford. The eight cheerleaders who will be honored during the 33rd Games include Marlys Nichols, Norm Johnson, Scott Trautman, Matt Schmeling, Jen Johnson, Jantina Carney, Rachelle Fratzke and Jamie Jostand. Cheerleaders must be heavily involved in the community and a resident of Dickinson County. Throughout the weekend of Jan. 25-27, they will be shuttled to the various events showing their support of the winter festival.

"The 2013 Winter Games Cheer Squad exemplifies what the games are truly about," Tom Kuhlman, Executive Vice Present of the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce said. "Fun, family and working in concert to make our greater community a fantastic place in which to work, live and play."

The U of O Winter Games website also has a new look. Interested participants can scroll through the interactive events schedule and click on any event and they will be taken to a google maps location. Officials also state that 21 nonprofit organizations benefit from the three-day winter festival, from the Humane Society and Senior Center to the Pearson Lakes Art Center.

In addition, ice conditions are looking much better than last year's games, which has everyone involved with the event excited. But in a word of caution, Winter Games officials do not encourage vehicles to be driven out on the ice.

"(The ice) will play a big part. Each year, volunteers in the community bring forth new event ideas and keep things fresh and interesting," Roe said. "It literally could not be done without all of them doing what they do. Our area is so fortunate to have citizens that go out of their way to make sure this event is the best it can possibly be and I, personally, am so grateful to them for that."

Okoboji Boat Works will be offering snowmobile rentals throughout the weekend. In addition, Parks Marina will be holding helicopter rides and ice skate rentals.

The event draws people from all over the Midwest - and Roe is ready to see where her role as co-chair takes her.

"I love to see all the people that come to town to take advantage of what we have to offer. Everyone is excited the weekend is finally here; they're able to play games and enjoy the lake in a way that is very atypical," she said. "The Fireworks Extravaganza and Burning of the Greens are my favorite parts of the weekend. It signifies that the weekend is winding down and the fireworks are beautiful against the ice and snow."

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