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Okoboji Winter Games to jolt people out of winter doldrums

File Photo: Attired in a bridal gown, one of the participants (above) jumps toward the ice cold water during Saturday's Polar Bear Plunge at the Okoboji Winter Games. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

OKOBOJI, Iowa -- Where can you go to compete in an outdoor broomball tournament, watch crazy people plunge into a frigid lake, sample from hundreds of pieces of chocolate, play in a chess tournament and take part in a snowball drop?

The answer is the 31st annual Okoboji Winter Games, which kicks off Friday with events planned in Okoboji and Spirit Lake through Sunday.

A few new events are being added to the long list of activities this year, including a wheelchair basketball exhibition game presented by the Southwest Minnesota State University Mustangs from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Okoboji Middle School, located near the intersection of U.S. 71 and Broadway.

Also new is the AMANI 3-D gaming trailer, which will be set up on Smith's Bay throughout the weekend. The trailer is filled with 3-D video games, and the public is invited to come inside and play. Numerous prizes will be awarded.

Returning this year is the ArtsLIVE Eco-Art People Project at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory. Jen Johnson, program director at the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said this year's image will be a fish.

"This is the fourth year of the people project -- an environmentally friendly art project," Johnson said.

More than 200 people are needed to help create the fish. Among them this year will be Miss Minnesota Kathryn Knuttila.

"What's neat about this project is we know we have very little impact on the environment. All we leave behind are footprints and all we take with us are friendships and memories," Johnson added. "So many outdoor projects are using paint or different things have a negative impact on the environment, and the people project doesn't."

Chad Branham is the artist, and Judy Hemphill, a Spencer, Iowa, photographer, will take aerial photos of the Eco-Art project.

Saturday night features the Winter Games Extravaganza on Preservation Plaza. The Iowa National Guard 194th Field Artillery will present a tribute, followed by an introduction of the University of Iowa Winter Games cheerleaders, awards ceremony, burning of the greens and fireworks display.

"(The cheerleaders) are eight people nominated by the community and voted on by the Winter Games Committee," said Johnson, adding that they select community leaders with a "can-do attitude" for the honor.

The cheerleaders will take part in the burning of the greens, which is lighting afire the Christmas trees and greenery collected following the holidays.

Thousands of people are expected for the Extravaganza, as well as at the wide array of events planned throughout the three days.

"The motels are filled -- there are people from Kansas, Omaha, Illinois ... and a lot of people from Minneapolis come here," Johnson said. "There's something for everyone."

And there are lots of food options, too -- from a chili cook-off Friday night to omelet breakfast Saturday morning, soup luncheon, chocolate, chili dogs and more.

"So many vendors are going to be down on the ice this year," Johnson said. "It's really turning into a county fair on ice, minus the ferris wheel."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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