In July 1983, Indiana held the first annual White River Park State Games, cosponsored by the White River State Park Development Commission and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport, to promote fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Other objectives were to provide Indiana residents of all ages with an opportunity to compete and develop their athletic skills, nurture Olympic-caliber athletes, and create grassroots support for all amateur sports.

The Indiana Sports Corporation agreed to organize and coordinate the event, and 5,600 athletes representing 84 of the state’s 92 counties entered the competition that first year. More than 3,500 finalists traveled to Indianapolis to compete in the finals in 10 sports, with gold, silver, and bronze medals going to the top competitors, just as in the Olympics. 

Each year, the number of participants and sports increased, and, by 1991, 24,000 Hoosier athletes competed in 950 events in 20 sports. Competitors were matched according to age, skill, and sport. In 1991, two alumni of the White River Park State Games competed for spots on 1992 Olympic squads.

Indiana was the fourth state to adopt a state games program. Earlier, states had used tryouts to select finalists, but organizers of Indiana’s state games wanted every contestant to have the opportunity to compete in actual events. Indiana established a regional-state finals format, and, by 1986, preliminary contests were being held in eight regions, with the winners advancing to the finals in Indianapolis. A positive by-product of the arrangement was the influx of new dollars in host cities where thousands of visiting athletes and their families frequented restaurants, hotels, and retail shops.

In the ensuing years, the White River Park State Games became a model for other states that wanted to initiate similar games. In September 1984, Indianapolis held the first national symposium on state games. The symposium led to the development of the National Congress for State Games, which has been instrumental in helping over 30 states develop contests.

Indiana’s first state games were funded almost entirely by the state. Over time, the games became nearly self-supporting, with one-third of the budget coming from the White River State Park Commission and the remainder from corporate sponsorships and entry fees. However, the last White River Park State Games event took place in 1994, being retired in favor of the now-defunct Hoosier State Games.

Revised March 2021

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