THESE are the amateurs' hours. Over the next few weekends, athletes will parade into local arenas in full-dress uniforms for Olympics-style opening ceremonies; they'll go head to head in everything from archery to volleyball, basketball to track and field; and the winners will stand atop platforms to receive their medals.
And after all the games are done, all the races run, it will be time to assess whether the Capital Games, which get into full swing this weekend, and the Maryland State Games, which will be held August 1-3, represent the future of amateur athletic competitions. Or whether there's sufficient interest and need to run such games.
Both programs, in their second year, are events of the sort the United States Olympic Committee hopes will be established around the country. Four years ago, the USOC met with representatives of state athletic and recreation programs to stress the importance of creating regionalized replicas of the famous games. The goals were to create organized, grass-roots competition and strengthen the feeder system of Olympics-caliber athletes.
The Capital Games, which draw from D.C., Maryland and Virginia, have quickly grown to 27 sports and expect to attract more than 8,000 athletes. They will have competitions in 15 sports at various local sites this weekend. No walkup entries will be accepted for those events, but the Capital Games are still accepting entries for August events: a triathlon, volleyball, yachting, kayaking and boxing. Entries for the Maryland State Games, which are restricted to Maryland residents, are now closed.
Spectators are admitted free to most Capital Games events and to all Maryland Games events.
Although most Capital Games activities are open only to local residents, the Games are also presenting two national championships. Last weekend offered the national AAU aerobic team dance championship.
And the highlight of this weekend's 15 events will be the conclusion of the Amateur Athletic Union's 17-and-under boys basketball national championship. In past years, current professionals such as Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks and Chris Mullen of the Golden State Warriors played in these contests.
This year's field of 38 teams, including squads from Reston and D.C., has showcased players who are expected to have major impact on college basketball in a year or two. Among them: 6-foot-10 Shawn Kemp of Indianapolis, 6-10 Mike Pepleuski of Detroit, 6-11 Stanley Roberts of South Carolina, 6-10 Alonzo Mourning of Hampton Roads, Va., and 6-7 Anthony Tucker of McKinley High School in the District (playing for Reston).
While such national competitions add spice to the games, the opportunities for local athletes remain the key.
"State games are the wave of the future in amateur athletics," says Josh Henson, a Bethesda lawyer and volunteer with the vast job of organizing the Capital Games, which have been strung out through the summer. "The majority of participants are athletes who will never go beyond the state level. This year, we run the gamut from national champions in our wrestling competition to housewives in the team aerobic dance who have never competed before."
He's also hoping that the enormous success of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles will kindle interest in state games programs. (There are now 22 around the country, by the way.)
"The multi-sports event has caught the public's imagination since the Los Angeles Olympics," says Henson. "For participants, however, only a small percentage ever will go to the Olympics. It used to be you had amateurs and professionals, and it was a very definitive line. What has happened is that line has become blurred and now you have the elite amateur -- such as someone who collects $30,000 for winning a marathon and is still called an amateur. State games are what are going to be left in the future for true amateurs."
Statewide games also open the door for masters -- athletes 30-and-over -- to stay active in their sport.
"There is not a whole bunch of opportunity for us old guys to compete," says Ken Laureys, 30, of Alexandria, who will participate in the masters freestyle and sombo wrestling at Gonzaga High School Saturday. "In this, it is double-elimination so everyone is guaranteed at least two matches. And in the first round, wrestlers are matched somewhat according to ability. That is good because no one wants to wrestle in a wipe-out, whether you are winning it or losing it."
The Maryland Games, which will orchestrate 17 sports mostly at the University of Maryland campus in College Park, have yet to show as much drawing power as the Capital Games. Part of the problem this year has been scheduling.
In particular, swimming and softball, both counted on as major events, have been hurt because the national swimming championships and regional softball tournaments are being held elsewhere the same weekend.
"What this meet should attract is swimmers less than a second off times that would have qualified them for the national meet," says Bill Walker, chairman of the Maryland committee of the United States Swimming Association. "It just has not attracted those swimmers."
Still, Jim Narron, chairman of the Maryland Games, expects about 1,800 competitors in all this year. And he adds that the spirit of the games is special to athletes and spectators.
"Hardly anyone will ever get a chance to go to the Olympics, but this is an opportunity to be part of the Olympic feeling," says Narron. "I don't want to sound corny, but last year, when all those athletes marched into the arena at the open ceremonies, I got chills up and down my back." CAPITAL GAMES
All events this weekend are open to the public; most are free. The exceptions, and their costs, are noted below. BASEBALL -- Prince George's Community College. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. BASKETBALL -- Boys 17-and-under national championship tournament. Quarterfinals Friday at Georgetown University's McDonough Gymnasium at 9 and 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m.; semifinals Friday at 6:30 and 8 p.m. Championship game Saturday at 1 p.m. Admission: $3 for a full day, $2 for youths 17 and under. BASKETBALL -- Women's open and girls 15-and-under divisions. Games at Paul IV High School, 10675 Lee Highway, Fairfax. Saturday 10 a.m. to conclusion. BODY BUILDING -- Queen Anne's Auditorium at Prince George's Community College. Sunday at 6 p.m. Admission: $15. JUMP ROPE -- Gonzaga High School. Saturday 10 a.m. MARTIAL ARTS -- Karate, kung fu, tae kwando and ju jitsu at Central High School, 200 Cabin Branch Road, Capitol Heights. Saturday 10 a.m. Admission: $5, $3 for 17 and under. POWERLIFTING -- Gonzaga High School. Saturday 10 a.m. SOCCER -- Prince George's Community College and Largo High School. Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. SOFTBALL -- Prince George's Community College. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. TENNIS -- Prince George's Community College and Largo High School. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. T-BALL -- Prince George's Community College, 301 Largo Road, Upper Marlboro. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. TRACK AND FIELD -- Largo High School, 505 Largo Road, Upper Marlboro. Saturday 10 a.m. WEIGHTLIFTING -- Gonzaga High School. Saturday 10 a.m. WRESTLING -- Freestyle, Greco-Roman and Sombo. Gonzaga High School, 19 I Street NW, Washington. Saturday 10 a.m. TRIATHLON, VOLLEYBALL, YACHTING, KAYAKING, BOXING -- To be held in August. Dates and sites to be announced. For information, call 493-4261. MARYLAND STATE GAMES
They run August 1 to 3. All events are at the University of Maryland, unless otherwise noted. All are free and open to the public, including the opening ceremonies Friday at 7 p.m. at Cole Field House. ARCHERY -- Soccer Field. Saturday, July 26, 9 a.m.; Sunday, July 27, 9 a.m. BASKETBALL -- North Gym. Saturday, Aug. 2, 9 a.m.; Sunday, Aug. 3, Cole Field House, 9 a.m. BOWLING -- Aug. 2, 9 a.m.; Aug. 3, 10 a.m. Site to be announced. CYCLING -- Byrd Stadium. Aug. 3, 9 a.m. FENCING -- Cole Field House (small gym). Aug. 2, 9 a.m. FIELD HOCKEY -- Artificial turf field adjacent to Shipley Field. Friday, Aug. 1, 4:30 p.m.; Aug. 2, 9 a.m.; Aug. 3, 9 a.m. GYMNASTICS -- North Gym. Aug. 2, 9 a.m. JUDO -- Cole Field House. Aug. 2, 9 a.m. SHOOTING -- Preinkert Field House. Aug. 2, 9 a.m.; Aug. 3, 9 a.m. SOCCER -- Soccer Field and Denton Intramural Field. Aug. 2, 10 a.m.; Aug. 3, 9 a.m. SOFTBALL -- Off-campus at Cedar Lane Park in Howard County. Aug. 2, 9 a.m.; Aug. 3, 9 a.m. SWIMMING -- Off-campus at Rockville Municipal Swim Center, 355 Martins Lane, Rockville. Aug. 2, 6 p.m.; Aug. 3, 9 a.m. TABLE TENNIS -- North Gym. Aug. 2, 9 a.m.; Aug. 3, 9 a.m. TENNIS -- Courts adjacent to Cole Field House. Aug. 2, 11 a.m.; Aug. 3, 11 a.m. TRACK AND FIELD -- Byrd Stadium. Aug. 1, 6 p.m.; Aug. 2, 9 a.m.; Aug. 3, 9 a.m. VOLLEYBALL -- Reckford Armory. Aug. 2, 10 a.m.; Aug. 3, 10 a.m.
Neil H. Greenberger last wrote for Weekend on summer basketball leagues.