CLEARWATER, Fla. – Stepping off the steps from the pool deck at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort, an inviting vast beach area opens up practically begging for athletic competition.
Many areas around the State of Florida and the United States attract sporting events with large fields of green grass. On Clearwater’s Sand Key Beach, it’s a wide and long sandy white beach to attract sporting events like the Sunshine State Games (SSG) International Beach Games.
“The International Beach Games concept is perfect for Clearwater Beach and the area around the Sheraton Sand Key Resort,” said Marvin E. Green, Jr., Florida Sports Foundation’s Vice President of Amateur Sports and Events. “Visitors to the area on a perfect late-summer, early fall weekend strolling along the beach are amazed at what they see at the Beach Games. Between the quality of athletes competing on the beach and the setup of the competition areas, it is quite a spectacle.”
To accommodate the sports involved, athletes and spectators have been treated, for the last four years, to a variety of multi-purpose fields in the open area between the hotel pool and beach. First are the 12 Beach Tennis courts (52 feet by 26 feet) adjacent to a 75-yard throwing area for the Weight Throws and Scottish Heavy Athletics. Next, there is a Powerlifting platform. In the middle, there sits a row of nine pairs of Cornhole boards while finally room for as many as four, 150-foot long Ultimate fields.
Among the nearly 300 athletes and spectators, a DJ blasts music from a specially-designed Hummer. Anyone within several hundred yards of where it is centrally parked enjoyed the music ranging from Motown, to modern country to current hip hop. During one of the breaks between games, dozens of Ultimate (frisbee) players line up to do the Cha-Cha slide and end the break circling the field in a conga line. Weight throwers and Highland Games competitors bounced up to the throwing platforms in time with the music.
A mainstay of the four years of the Beach Games has been International Federation of Beach Tennis (IFBT) World Cup, one of the most important events of the organization’s annual calendar. Competitors come from all over the world to Clearwater Beach in hopes of earning ranking points. Among the more than 100 players competing at the 2018 Games were players from Italy, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico and U.S. athletes from as far as California.
“The players really like the setup here because the courts have their own area on the beach,” Leslie Culver explained to Sheraton Sand Key General Manager Russ Kimball. “At many of the Beach Tennis tournaments, the courts are crammed into really small areas on the beach. This area gives everyone a lot of space.”
The three days of Beach Tennis covered 27 hours of singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles play. One of the biggest winners of the weekend was Mateo Godio, originally from Italy, now living in Delray Beach, who won gold medals in the Men’s Open Singles Division and Mixed Doubles Open Division, while taking the silver medal in Men’s Open Doubles.
Besides fighting off the near-record temperatures in the mid-90s for late September, Godio withstood an untimely swing from his partner, Paulo Vitor Santos, striking him on the forehead opening up a laceration and leaving a visible hematoma. After a break of nearly an hour, which included a visit from paramedics, Godio and Santos, returned to the court before dropping the championship match 9-7.
Godio, who won the Men’s Open Singles Championships at the IFBT World Championships in June in Barcelona, Spain, also fought off painful blisters on his feet while battling five opponents on the way to a Men’s Singles gold medal the day before.
On the final day of competition, Godio wrapped up the three days and 15 matches of Beach Tennis with his second gold medal of the weekend in the Mixed Open Doubles event, teaming with Lady Correra, of Delray Beach.
“It was fun, but I’m glad it’s over,” he said, after climbing off the medal stand as the sun began to set over the Gulf of Mexico late Sunday afternoon.
Besides the seasoned play of Godio, the “Future of Beach Tennis” made his name known on the World Cup stage as Gabriel Martinez, a 14-year old player from the Beach Tennis Club of Delray Beach, won medals in Advanced Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles.
Gabriel won the singles medal defeating all four players in pool play, including his father, Juan Carlos, who won the silver medal.
While Juan Carlos began playing beach tennis in his native Venezuela many years ago, Gabriel, a student at Omni Middle School, in Boca Raton, has only been playing for a year.
While both played men’s doubles the following day, the father and son were not paired together.
“We argue too much,” said Juan Carlos, with a laugh. “He’s 14 years old. I’m 53. He plays a lot quicker than I do.”
Now for the Ultimate
Besides Beach Tennis, Beach Ultimate has been contested at the SSG International Beach Games for all four years. With shorter fields on the beach, the game allows for a different rule where if a scoring play is thrown the full 150 feet from end zone to end zone, it counts as two points.
Ultimate players are very loyal to their sport and several have visited the SSG Summer Games, at various locations statewide, and Clearwater Beach for the SSG Beach Games multiple times over the years. Butch Brown, a 49-year old Ultimate player from Indian Rocks Beach, which is just down Gulf Boulevard from the Sheraton Sand Key, has played in all four SSG Beach Games Ultimate tournaments winning medals in all four.
“Even though the game of Ultimate goes back to 1968, it’s still a new sport to a lot of people,” Brown said. “A multi-sport event like this introduces the game to athletes in other sports or folks who may just be walking down the beach. They’ll see what’s going on and come over to check it out.”
Brown also holds a further distinction in the 37-year history of the Sunshine State Games, the state of Florida’s only Olympic-style Sports Festival.
“I won a gold medal in wrestling while I was on the Largo High School wrestling team back in 1986,” he said proudly.
The gold medal-winning team in the Men’s Open Division featured another Sunshine State Games success story in Larz Hanselman, of Lakeland, and a member of the Sober Drivers team.
Hanselman began playing Ultimate with high school classmates in Lakeland and was coached and mentored by SSG Ultimate Sport Director Kristin Deffler and Table Tennis Sport Director Brad Woodington, who has experience in the game.
With the guidance of the Florida Ultimate community and family, Hanselman advanced to the professional ranks to play for the Jacksonville Cannons of the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), which relocated to the Tampa Bay area for the 2018 season.
Directing the event in 2018 was Peter Masone, the General Manager of the Cannons. He pointed out several prominent members of the local Ultimate club team, the Tampa Bay Uproar, who were on teams at the Beach Games.
Brandon Perales was a member of the 2018 gold-medal winning Me Hoy Minoy team in the Coed Division. Perales is part-owner, a player, and assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Cannons. He recently won a Men’s Masters Gold Medal at the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) Championships in Winnipeg, Canada, as a member of the Boneyard team.
Throwing Heavy Stuff
The Ultra Weight Pentathlon involves men and women throwing objects of five different weights ranging from eight pounds to 300 pounds. The U20 Florida Weight Throws Championships is a pipeline toward the adult-based Ultra Weight Pentathlon and trains high school athletes to be hammer throwers in the college ranks.
Fort Lauderdale’s Madi Malone returned for her third consecutive year and was the first to take advantage of the event which eventually landed her a scholarship with Auburn University’s women’s track and field team. Three years ago, her performance at the Beach Games gave her a qualifying score for a USATF National Championship – the event where she caught the eye of the Auburn coaching staff.
Now other South Florida high school track and field athletes are attending the Beach Games hoping for the same outcome.
“Since the Hammer Throw is not contested in Florida high school competitions, these Games are the only outlet in Florida for athletes of their age,” said Sport Director Jim Griffin, of Fort Lauderdale, a hammer thrower himself in college.
In the 2018 USATF World Ultra-Weight Championships, a pair of 66-year olds compiled the highest male and female scores. Mike Matteson, of Delavan, Wisconsin, totaled 4,338 points and was one of only two athletes to top 4,000 points. Among the women’s throwers, Dr. Agnes Green, of Bellaire, compiled 3,945 points, edging out Stacey Snow, of St. Petersburg, by one point for the high score.
For the second consecutive year, Matteson and his wife, Diane, have traveled to Clearwater for the Beach Games. Mike has an athletic background growing up in Wisconsin and attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater playing football. Diane decided to take up the Ultra Weight throwing event at age 60.
While the lower amounts of weights are in the form of a heavy ball with a handle and athletes get it going in a hammer throw style before releasing the handle for the throw, the 300-pound weight thrown by the athletes resembles a paint can in stature, but it weighs 300 pounds. It is thrown, “granny style,” with a back and forth rocks between the legs to get momentum before letting go. Most throws travel between two and four feet. After all, it is 300 pounds.
The high score among females was set by Dr. Agnes Green, a 66-year old medical director for a local Weight Loss & Age Management clinic in the Tampa Bay area. She is a Florida Senior Games gold-medal winning athlete in the shot put, javelin, and discus throw and competes in USATF Masters Track and Field events.
Green uses this athletic competition as a way to inspire those who visit her clinics. “I can’t get my patients on the right track if I’m not living an invigorated life,” she said. “I have to set an example for them. Your health is your greatest wealth.”
Lifting Bar Bending Amounts of Weight
As the 5-foot, 2-inch, 119 pound Jenn Rotsinger, of St. Petersburg, stepped behind the bar and gave one final shout, the confidence was evident. She was going to deadlift the 418 pounds on the ground in front of her and set a U.S. Powerlifting Association National Masters record.
“She lifted nearly four times her body weight,” said SSG Powerlifting sport director Richard Ficca. “Which is insane.”
As she straightened up after bending her knees for the record-setting lift, her face turned a deep red, and the veins in her biceps and neck were clearly visible. The crowd that gathered around the platform for the lift, voiced its encouragement.
Finally, she reached the apex of the deadlift and was standing straight up with 418 pounds in her hands. The three judges showed white cards signifying a clean lift and cheers erupted from the crowd.
For her efforts, Rotsinger was awarded the Best Female Lifter of the competition. She also provided motivation for one of her Powerlifting pupils, 45-year old Ray Brox, who also set a national record in his age group and weight class, with a deadlift of 567 pounds.
While Rotsinger and Brox provided a maximum level of intensity with their record-setting lifts, Charlie Nelson, who celebrated his 65th birthday the day after the competition, provided the comic relief.
On his second lift of three, 418 pounds, the 40-year veteran Powerlifter yelled out to the crowd, “this is still easy.” On his final lift of the day, 440 pounds, Nelson once again amused the crowd with, “Not bad for an old guy,” before setting the bar back on the platform.
“I used to be able to lift 650 pounds,” he proudly proclaimed. “But that was 30 years ago.”
Toss That Bag into the Hole
Drew Lovelace, of Plant City, and Brandon Gray, of Hudson, won the Friday evening Beach Games Blind Draw Cornhole gold medal, throwing bags 27 feet toward a six-inch hole in the dark.
The pair defeated Tim Steiner, of Riverview, and Roni Sue Johnson, of Spring Hill, 21-20 in the final match as sport director Ryan Schwartzkopf held a flashlight over the board. The final points were scored at 8:48 p.m., well after the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.
Steiner and Johnson came back from a 17-13 deficit and took a 20-19 lead before Lovelace and Steiner scored the final two points.
Johnson returned just over 12 hours later to win a gold medal in another round of doubles play teamed with Bill Smith, of Land O’ Lakes. Johnson and Smith defeated Sarah Cassidy and Shane Dingman, of Hernando, in a final best of three match.
The most impressive moment of the Johnson and Smith gold-medal winning performance came when Smith and Cassidy threw their collection of eight bags into the hole, matching each other’s four throws.
Playing with the cancellation scoring method, no points were awarded to either one for their marksmanship.
Athletes Competing in Kilts
Honestly, how many times are men and women in kilts seen on the beach throwing 16-pound stones, weighted bags over a bar with pitchforks and trees weighing up to 100 pounds?
Rarely. But it happened at the 2018 SSG International Beach Games Highland Games competition.
Kevin Dupuis, of Palm Harbor, who bears a striking resemblance to the 6-5, 289-pound Houston Texans defensive lineman, J.J. Watt, repeated as a Highland Games gold medalist in the second year the sport has been in the SSG International Beach Games.
Among the 35 athletes competing in the Highland Games events, were a handful who joined in a second day of competition after the Ultra Weight Pentathlon, like Dr. Agnes Green and Stacey Snow, a local fitness trainer.
While Green and Snow agreed many of the events bore the same traits and practices of one another, they were in agreement about the Sheaf Toss (throwing weighted bags over a bar with a pitchfork) and Caber Toss (tree trunks).
“I’ve never done anything like that,” they both said in unison while shaking their heads.
The five sports of the SSG International Beach Games Weekend, and those who withstood record-high temperatures over three days, featured the endurance of athletes making their way through Beach Tennis pool and bracket play. Ultra Weight Pentathlon athletes and Powerlifters displayed their strength heaving weighted balls onto the white sands of Clearwater Beach and deadlifting as much as 760 pounds.
The accuracy needed by Cornhole players to throw a bag 27 feet through a six-inch hole and Ultimate athletes throwing a Frisbee as far as 150 feet to an open teammate for a score, was also on display. Finally, there were Highland Games athletes in kilts throwing elements, available and developed by creative souls centuries ago.
The SSG International Beach Games is an example of how the Florida Sports Foundation continues to offer Florida’s amateur athletes the latest innovations and trends in the national and international sports arena. Mother Nature provides the athletic playground and atmosphere for athletes and spectators to enjoy.
To access complete results from the 2018 SSG International Beach Games, click here.
About the Florida Sports Foundation
Florida’s Sports Industry creates over $57.4 billion in economic impact for the Sunshine State, provides over 580,000 jobs for its citizens, and attracts over 16 million out of state visitors each year. All of which deservingly make Florida the “Sports Capital of the World”. The Florida Sports Foundation, Inc. is a 501(C)3 non-profit corporation, serving as the Sports Industry Development Division of Enterprise Florida, Inc. The mission of the Florida Sports Foundation is to:
- Assist Florida’s communities with securing, hosting and retaining Sporting events and sports related business that generate significant economic impact and Sports Tourism for the state of Florida through the Foundation’s grant programs, legislative initiatives and Industry Partner service, recognition and development.
- Provide the citizens of Florida with participation opportunities in the Sunshine State Games and Florida Senior Games events.
- Serve as Florida’s leading resource for Sport Tourism research and facts.
- Assist in the promotion of targeted leisure sports industries in Florida.
- Assist National and Florida State Governing Bodies to promote amateur sport development through the Sunshine State Games and hosting events in Florida.