The 30th annual Cornhusker State Games officially opened Friday with eight-year-old Jack Hoffman touching off the caldron as mystery torch lighter and capping off opening ceremonies at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Not quite tall enough to reach the bowl of the caldron, Hoffman got an assist from a pair of National Guard soldiers who had rappelled from the building’s catwalk moments earlier.
“The purpose of the Opening Ceremonies is to inspire the athletes, and I doubt you get a more inspirational torch lighter than Jack Hoffman,” Games Executive Director Dave Mlnarik said.
The Opening Ceremonies, which began with the Parade of Athletes, marked the beginning of the largest Cornhusker State Games since 2001, with more than 13,000 competing in 63 different sports, mostly over the next two weekends.
Hoffman, who lives in Atkinson and whose battle with brain cancer led him to befriend former Husker running back Rex Burkhead, gained national fame and worldwide awareness for his cause with a touchdown run in the Huskers’ 2013 spring game.
The video clip of the run went viral and Hoffman won an ESPY, which spawned an outpouring of support for the Team Jack Foundation, formed in Jack’s name to raise money in the fight against pediatric brain cancer.
The stage was set for Hoffman when First Lieutenant Ryan Thompson and Staff Sergeant Chad Morris rappelled 90 feet from the rafters, marched to the stage and flanked the caldron. Hoffman was introduced by a video produced by Husker vision before crossing the arena and joining the soldiers, who lifted him high enough to ignite the Games flame.
Entertainment was provided earlier in the show by the trampoline dunk act known as ACRODUNK, a 2013 finalist on America’s Got Talent and a famous Sioux Falls drum-line known as Su Fu Du.
Several Nebraska mascots made appearances along with DJ Romeo, Miss Nebraska USA Amanda Soltero and members of the Husker men’s and women’s basketball teams, who led the oath of athletes. The national anthem, sung by statewide contest winner Ether Saure, capped a patriotic segment that included video messages from Nebraska U.S. soldiers.
Emcees included KOLN-KGIN anchors Owen Jensen and Bridget Fargen, and Sports Director Kevin Sjuts, while Joy Patten, General Manager of Three Eagles Communications, served as Honorary Chair and made the opening declaration.