When the final rounds begin in men’s tennis at the 2012 Summer Iowa Games in Ames, don’t be surprised if there are a couple guys named Connell in the medal mix.
One could very well be Joe Connell, manager of perishables at the Webster City Hy-Vee. But brothers Matt and Tim (both former Hy-Veers) and Andrew, assistant kitchen manger at Lawrence No. 1, are just as likely to be in the hunt.
And don’t forget about their dad, Tom, one-time market manager at the Eldora Hy-Vee, who taught his boys everything they know about tennis and can still stroke a winning forehand from the baseline.
The Connells are fixtures at the Games, where they have won numerous medals over the past decade. Twice, players named Connell comprised both doubles duos in the championship game.
“That was kind of fun,” Joe Connell says. “We like to go to the Games together every year. It’s a family thing that just turned into an every year deal.”
The Connells epitomize the essence of the Games, says Cory Kennedy of the Iowa Sports Foundation. The event was designed 26 years ago to give ordinary citizens a chance to feel what Olympic-style competition is like.
Organizers this year hope more than 15,000 competitors of all ages and skill levels will take part in 50 sports—judo to kayaking, fishing skills to trapshooting, baseball to dodge ball—over three weekends in July.
Hy-Vee is the primary sponsor of the Games.
“It’s definitely an event that the whole family can take part in together,” Kennedy says. “You’ll see siblings in the 3-on-3 basketball competition, and their mom or grandmother in the basketball shooting contest. You’ll see dads and sons wrestling in separate divisions. We also have a cycling tour that the family ride together.”
Joe Connell says Games organizers “do a good job of tailoring the competition to where you are in your life.”
Translation: You won’t be across the net from the next Rafael Nadal. More likely it’ll be someone of your skill level, possibly a player you’ve squared off with in the past.
If you’re good enough, it might be one of the Connells.
Joe, 32, has won 10 medals (“Two silver, eight bronze; still striving for a gold”) in the past 10 years. He is always a tough draw in the 18- to 35-year-old division and last year lost the gold medal game to a highly ranked former high school star from Sioux City.
“It gets harder and harder every year, because I get older and those kids seem to stay 18,” he says.
Back in the day, Connell was the top player at Eldora-New Providence High School, where dad Tom coached. Now he only plays tennis during the summer, when he goes down to the high school courts and hits it around with the youngsters to sharpen his serve and volley leading up to the Games.
“I beat the number one kid on the high school team; he’s a part-timer at the store,” Connell says. “I had to give him a hard time about getting beat by an old guy. But it’s all in fun.”
Just like the Games themselves.
Pictured are the Connell brothers, from left: Andrew, assistant kitchen manager Lawrence No. 1; Joe, manager of perishables, Webster City; Matt and Tim, shortly after Matt and Tim won the gold medal in doubles at the Iowa Summer Games. Andrew and Joe took the bronze.
WHAT: The Summer Iowa Games
WHEN: July 7-8, 12-15 and 20-22
WHERE: Ames and other sites around the state
WHAT ELSE?: Included in the Summer Games are the Opening Ceremony, Torch Run, Finals Fest and Sunday Chapel Service.
Want to join in?
The Iowa Games has developed a new online registration system.
Go to iowagames.org and on click on the “You Can Be an Athlete” banner, then select your sport and continue. Deadline is June 25. (To register by mail, select your sport and download an entry form.)
About the Games
The Iowa Games began in August 1987 as a weekend event featuring 16 sports and 7,104 participants. For the first time, weekend athletes, school children and senior citizens could experience the thrill of great performances and satisfaction of doing their best in a statewide Olympic-style competition.