November 17, 2010 - 1:54 AM
Since this is a blog, we'll start with a short Web exercise.
Try going to www.empirestategames.org.
Short trip, huh?
The Empire State Games' Web site is down because the Games are down and out.
A letter was sent to ESG athletes. Regional directors heard the news at a conference call.
The 2011 Games, scheduled to be hosted by Rochester, have been canceled. The Games' budget has been eliminated. Staff members have been laid off or reassigned.
Ralph Galanti, chairman of the local organizing committee for this past summer's games in Buffalo, heard it in a phone call Tuesday night from one of the major members of his team, Pete Harvey of the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
Galanti used words like "a shame" and "a travesty" and a "nightmare" to describe the decision. It's completely understandable considering what happened here this past summer.
Galanti had the unenviable job of helping ressurect the Games in Buffalo after they had been canceled in 2009 -- that's when the state came up with a blockheaded plan to charge participants exorbitant fees to participate in the 2008 Games scheduled for the Hudson Valley.
The locals had to work hard to convince competitors and sponsors that the 2010 Games would indeed go on. First Niagara came on as a major financial supporter: $500,000 of its own sponsorship, an additional $500,000 to aid the overall budget, and the bank helped convince other Western New York sponsors (from BlueCross/BlueShield to the Bills and Sabres and many others) to come on board.
Despite the year off, it turned out to be the Empire State Games at their best, as they had always been for their 31 previous editions: a host area shows off its region to visitors throughout the state and enjoys the economic impact, the host schools show off their campuses to thousands of high school athletes, visiting athletes form friendships and gain experiences on a field trip many will remember their entire lives.
And oh-by-the-way: There was some pretty outstanding athletic competition enjoyed by fans as college-age and older athletes returned to the athletic arena once again while high school athletes polished their game and gained experience and exposure that will help their college recruiting.
Throw in a big crowd at a successful Opening Ceremonies and even a profit turned by the local organizing committee (that it had dedicated to scholarships and future sporting events in Buffalo), the story of the 2010 Games in Buffalo turned out as warm-and-fuzzy as it could possibly be.
According to reports, Rochester mayor and Lieutenant Governor-elect Robert Duffy "said he was aware that the Games had been canceled, but said it was premature for him to offer an outlook on their future under Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo."
Duffy was quoted as saying: “I can’t offer a definitive answer today but am certain that the incoming administration will revisit this decision after Jan. 1."
Ahhh, an optimist says, there is hope. From the open or scholastic divisions, chose your own metaphor: There's still time on the clock, still a chance for a last-inning rally, a last-second reversal.
But how much hope can there be when Albany keeps bobbling the ball, falling off the balance beam and flipping its canoe (or kayak).
"The biggest hurdle was the public perception and that of the businesses," Galanti said of Buffalo's challenges leading up to this past summer. "'Why should we give you money when we don't even know if the state putting is it on?' It caused a lot of problems. Kids would keep asking, 'Are we going to have it? Are you sure we're going to have it?
"Now, people won't believe anything that the state says."
There exists a great event with a great brand and a great history which benefits the state and its residents in a great many ways. It would be nice if the state was a proper caretaker.
Obviously the state budget has huge problems. Huge as in billions ($9 billion, to be exact). The Empire State Games' budget was $2.7 million when it was slashed in 2009. The state's contribution to last year's Games was about $1 million.
If there was no way for an appropriation from the state, wouldn't it be time for reassessing? For reinvention? Last year saw the most private sponsorship of the Games and the first year of a registration fee. More sponsorship? Slightly higher fees? Fewer sports? A scholastic-only event? Transferring the Games or reconstituting the Games through another organization or a foundation of some sort? Scheduling them every other year? Calling a timeout for this summer's Games? Or even putting them on hold altogether? On hold, not hung up on.
But the letter has been sent, the news is out, the Web pages are "404: Not Found." The Empire State Games, the ones that bear Gov. Hugh L. Carey's name, the ones that started a nationwide trend of state games, are history all over again.
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[Media watchdog sidenote: The Poughkeepsie Journal should have taken its "exclusive" tag off its story (and its link on its home page) a long time ago. It has been on there all Tuesday night. The Times Herald-Record of Middletown had its own free-standing -- and much more informative -- story up at 7:41 p.m. Tuesday. I'm not sure when Poughkeepsie's story went up, but the first comment on the bottom of the page was at 6:33 p.m. (I'm writing this well after midnight, if anyone cares). The exclusive tag especially should have been lost once the story was posted by news outlets under the same ownership as Poughkeepsie Tuesday evening -- which was when the story broke for most of the state.]
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