Empire State Games Return

June 7, 2010 by admin 

The Empire State Games are a rite of passage for New York athletes. The annual summertime Olympic-style festival has churned out fond memories and fine athletes since 1978. Famous alums include Mike Tyson and Kenny Anderson.

But when New York State Parks commissioner Carol Ash suspended the Games in April 2009, she pointed toward a problem which is sure to dog the event for the foreseeable future – money.

“Moving forward, it is difficult to foresee that the state, alone, will be in the position to continue to fund 90 percent of the cost of the overall program, which totals more than $3 million annually,” Ash said last year of a program which includes Summer and Winter Games as well as Games For The Physically Challenged.

While the state is still grappling with a budget crunch, one year later the Empire State Games are back. The event draws 7,000 teenaged and adult athletes in 33 sports and resumes in Buffalo from July 21-25. The Long Island contingent is far from finalized.

Competition takes place in three age divisions: scholastic (ages 13-17), open (amateurs 18-or-older) and masters (18-and-up, depending on the sport). Tryouts are still being held this month. For a complete list, go to the Empire State Games web site.

“Last year was a real problem for us because it was on again off again,’’ longtime Long Island region director Bob Kenney said. “Had it been terminated at a given time, it would have been OK. But I had to keep a staff ready. And breaking the chain of all those years was a shame. It was very upsetting to me.”

Rebooting the process of building a contingent of athletes and coaches who will represent Long Island well at the Empire State Games has been challenging. But another issue has made these Games a tough sell.

An ESG in Buffalo has always been a problem for Kenney. It is as far from Long Island as you as you can get and still be in New York. Participants don’t like the travel involved, and it’s challenging for friends and family to follow. So the Long Island region has traditionally struggled to lure the best athletes to a Buffalo-based Games.

Then again, it beats another summer without the Empire State Games. And some sports are thriving. Scholastic boys lacrosse has 558 players signed up for 20 roster spots.

“Am I happy to get them back?” Kenney said. “Absolutely, I’m happy to get them back. And back in the same form they were in. But it’s been tough.”

One team sport was without a coach until May, according to Kenney. Another traditionally strong team has lacked enough registered participants, he said.

An added wrinkle was the decision to move from free registration to charging a $10 fee.

These Games will be under a microscope because everyone is scrambling for dollars during this recession. Buffalo-area businesses have pledged $1.1 million in cash and in-kind support. And more of the same will be needed to keep the Games as a summer tradition.

After all, some have argued that money spent on the Empire State Games might be better served keeping state parks open. When Gov. David Paterson last month closed 60 parks, the state legislature voted days later to keep all state parks, historic sites and campgrounds open with $11 million in emergency funding.

“I would agree,’’ Kenney said. “If one was thinking rationally — why have some kids running around for five days when you could have a whole lot of other people running around in your parks? But the comparison financially — $1.2 million isn’t going to open up a lot of parks.”

The bottom line is Empire State Games are back — for now. So sign up to compete or plan a trip to Buffalo to take in this impressive sports fest. Who knows what the future holds?

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

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