ABLE Games 2023 shaping up to be bigger and better than ever
Teams from across the region will descend upon the Sanford Health Athletic Complex this weekend to compete in the third annual, all-inclusive test of functional fitness.
FARGO — When Connor McGovern and Kim Pladson founded ABLE Games in 2020, they never imagined the growth the event would experience over the next three years.
The third installment of ABLE Games kicks off Friday, March 31. Teams from across the region will descend upon Sanford Health Athletic Complex to compete in the first all-inclusive test of functional fitness in the region.
One of the main goals for organizers this year was for the ABLE initiative to reach area schools.
"We actually are a couple (of teams) over where we were last year," Pladson said. "But it's a very different composition where we're really focusing on schools. We have 60 teams coming from grades 7-12 which is really where we want to create the biggest impact."
"We're transitioning from a pure CrossFit (event) and it's going full co-ability," McGovern added. "Your partner can be anything from a novice to an Rx. We're focusing on that younger group, as well, because once you get the high schools going after it, you can move into that space and have high schools compete against each other. It creates more and more impact and opens up more doors."
The "ABLE in School" program was launched this year as a skills-based curriculum program that encourages diversity, equity and inclusion through the support of physical education for all children, including those with special needs."
In the first year, a school district partner asked McGovern and Pladson to create a curriculum based on what they observed, believing the impact of the ABLE Games could be used during the school year. Pladson and McGovern discussed the ABLE brand and created an 18-week semester curriculum for grades k-6 and 7-12, Pladson said.
The school program promotes movement-based initiatives integrated into K-12 physical education curriculum to support school-to-workforce. It maintains mobility as students grow, implements social and emotional learning, encourages peer-to-peer interaction, and improves balance, endurance, and the ability to concentrate.
Organizers took the program to a New York school for a trial run, McGovern said.
"The school loved it and and all of the kids loved it," McGovern said, noting the school already had a buddy program. "Those high school kids, all of them were awesome and they're taking the right steps. Then to bring our curriculum in and add another dimension to it was really cool."
McGovern is a Fargo native, a Shanley High School graduate and a center for the NFL's New York Jets. Pladson is the president and CEO of TNT Kid's Fitness & Gymnastics. The duo created ABLE Games as a way of giving back to the community, as well as making a space for all-inclusive competition.
This year's event begins with the "ABLE to Move" initiative at 9:30 a.m. Friday. Inspired by the NFL's Play 60 program, school districts within the region will be able to participate in the free, hour-long session of movement hosted by McGovern and some of his NFL peers, including Buffalo Bills center Mitch Morse, Ben Ellefson, a Minnesota Vikings tight end, North Dakota State alumnus and Hawley, Minn. native, and center Matt Paradis, who was most recently with the Carolina Panthers.
An opening ceremony is 1 p.m. Friday, with competition across multiple divisions (Rx, scaled, novice, adult co-ability and partner, student co-ability and partner).
The day concludes with the annual "Celebrity Face-Off" at 5 p.m., featuring four ABLE Games sponsors comprised of teams of eight competing in a series of challenges. Choice Bank was last year's winner and will look to defend their title.
McGovern said the Celebrity Face-Off is one of the most popular events of the weekend.
"That'll be fun," McGovern said. "It's light-hearted and gets a lot of people involved and it really gets the excitement going. It's heavy on the cheers, so it's a good time."
Saturday begins with competition at 9 a.m. before the closing ceremonies and awards commence at 2 p.m.
ABLE Games will also be giving out scholarships this year as part of the initiative to become more involved within area schools.
McGovern and his wife are adding scholarships for any senior or anyone with special needs who will be graduating 12th grade or going into their transition years, with the five $1,000 scholarships helping recipients either go to college or go into another transition in life, Pladson said.
"I don't know that I've ever seen a special needs scholarship before, and I think that's very special," Pladson said. "It's a pretty exciting thing to add to ABLE Games to give back and to support movement in a different way."
Team registration is closed for this year but volunteers are still welcome.
"I have to give a big shoutout to our community and people within the CrossFit community," Pladson said, adding that there are more than 380 volunteers set for the weekend.
"The sponsorships from our community and abroad — I mean we are really grateful," Pladson said. "That makes such a big difference and it allows us to bring in some really remarkable talent. We're just grateful. The community has been amazing."
For anyone interested in checking out ABLE Games this weekend, admission is $15 per day for adults, $10 per day for K-12 students and seniors, and free for ages 5 and under. Parking is $5 and spectators are asked to enter through the north doors of the SHAC.
Although he's living out his dream of playing professional football in the NFL's largest market, McGovern stressed the importance of giving back to his hometown.
"Fargo helped make me who I am and so did North Dakota," McGovern said. "This community, it's just different. I've had the opportunity to live in a couple of states now and they're all great places, but nothing rivals North Dakota."