Tribune-Star columnist Mark Bennett

Life clearly hasn’t beaten the “anything-is-possible” out of Pete Millar and his friends.

They’re twentysomething. They’re ambitious. And they’re optimistic enough to have, at least for a few nanoseconds, seriously considered spearheading a drive to bring the Summer Olympic Games to Indiana someday.

Millar mentions that wild idea, grins sheepishly as his cohorts chuckle, and then explains the far more realistic project their group settled on instead.

These six Indiana State University graduate students will spend the next two years studying the feasibility of bringing a new global event — the Youth Olympic Games — to Indianapolis in the summer of 2014.

“We’re actually laying the groundwork and working from the bottom up,” says Millar’s classmate, Lauren Calhoun, in a meeting of the group last week, “and I think that’s the cool thing.”

Just four months ago, the International Olympic Committee announced the creation of that new teen-oriented competition, hoping to promote youth fitness. The Youth Olympics will feature 3,200 athletes ages 14 to 18 competing over a 12-day span, and the first such games will happen in 2010 and every four years thereafter.

Nine cities already are bidding to host those inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games, and the frontrunner appears to be Athens, Greece, the birthplace of the ancient Olympics. The IOC will announce the winning site in February.

But bidding for the subsequent Youth Olympics won’t begin until later next year.

“The details for the 2014 YOG process have not been worked out yet, and likely will not be announced until after the 2010 [bidding] process has been completed,” Rob Livingstone, producer of GamesBids.com for the IOC, told the Tribune-Star on Wednesday.

So these ISU students have a leg up on the rest of the world, right now.

As far as they can tell, no organizations in Indianapolis are already pursuing the IOC’s second Youth Olympics.

“No one has done this yet,” says Calhoun, a 25-year-old from Elnora. “We would be the first.”

“We” are six members of Professor Ethan Strigas’ master’s degree-level recreation and sports management class.

The group includes three Wisconsin natives — Jim Lenz, 24, Katie Gaal, 23, and Millar, 24 — Derrick Lawrence, 22, of Cincinnati, Carmen Bell, 24, of Oklahoma, and Calhoun. In terms of geographic connections, the group has an edge because their instructor, Strigas, hails from Greece and is familiar with Athens’ efforts to get the 2010 YOG.

Making the same pitch for the 2014 games would require substantial commitment for Indianapolis. The estimated bidding price paid by a city to host a Youth Olympics would be $30 million, IOC President Jacques Rogge told USA Today last summer.

However, unlike the traditional Summer Olympics, the Youth Olympics will be well suited to smaller host cities, if those towns have adequate, existing athletic venues. The IOC does not want host cities to have to build new stadiums and arenas.

“One thing Indianapolis has going for it is the facilities,” Lawrence says, as his friends nod in agreement.

Indeed, the Circle City offers world-class venues for swimming (the IU Natatorium), track and soccer (the IUPUI Michael A. Carroll Stadium), the Indianapolis Tennis Center, the new Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse, as well as 40 downtown-area hotels, and dorm facilities for visiting athletes at IUPUI, Butler University and the University of Indianapolis. “Plus, there’s the newly renovated airport,” adds Lenz.

“All of the facilities are within a five-mile radius of the circle,” explains Lawrence.

They sound convincing already, especially with Indianapolis’ reputation as the “amateur sports capital of the world.” From 1977-91, Indy was the site of more than 400 national and international sports events, drawing 4.5 million spectators, 215,000 athletes and $2 billion in revenue, according to the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

But that city also just voted out of office a mayor, Bart Peterson, who led aggressive efforts to keep and attract high-profile sports teams and events. Taxpayers in the capital city are, to say the least, cranky, and $30 million is still $30 million.

“There would definitely have to be an economic-impact study done on how it would benefit the city,” Millar says.

Strigas’ class delves into the complexities of “hard taxes” and “soft taxes,” Calhoun says. The six students collaborating on the Youth Olympic Games project have just begun a two-year journey. They’ll complete their study by May 2009, when each intends to pick up an ISU master of arts degree. By then, they hope to have the support and involvement of people from Indianapolis’ government, business and civic entities.

“At the end, when we do have this feasibility study, hopefully they’ll be with us and help us convince the people of Indianapolis,” Gaal says.

Calhoun hears that and breaks into a bright smile.

“We’re actually going to see the nuts and bolts of this, and we’re getting to do this in a graduate class,” Calhoun says. “We don’t have to wait until our careers begin, and that’s exciting.”

If Indianapolis follows their lead, it will have one advantage over other cities — the infectious spirit of a half-dozen ISU students.

Mark Bennett can be reached at mark.bennett@tribstar.com or (812) 231-4377.

Recommended for you