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Empire State Games would return in 2013 under plan by Rochester-based foundation

The Empire State Games, dormant and presumed dead since this past summer's event was canceled, have a pulse.

There is a plan in place for the summer Games' return in 2013, it was announced today by Scott Bell and his Rochester-based Empire State Sports Foundation.  

Bell, the chief operating officer of the nonprofit foundation, said his group reached an 10-year agreement with the state to run the Olympic-style, multi-sport event. The Games had been a successful stop on the summer sports calendar in New York since they were founded in 1978 before the program was gutted by state budget cuts.

The 2013 Games would be held in Rochester but Bell said his foundation's vision is to have the Games move throughout the state as they were in their 32 previous editions.

"This [announcement] is the first step of many. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but certainly we are very excited about the opportunity," Bell told The Buffalo News.

Bell, 44, will be leaving his post at the Monroe County Sports Commission at the end of the year to run the foundation. 

"Today's announcement gives us the ability to stand on the mountaintop and say they're coming," Bell said. "It allows us freedom to talk to area colleges and universities and for us to raise money. We have had several conversations with companies and individuals who share our passion for the Games."

The Games were canceled twice in the last three years due to state budgetary difficulties. The 2009 games intended for the Hudson Valley were called off. The Games returned to Buffalo in 2010 and were highly successful thanks in large part to private sponsorship, namely from First Niagara. However, the state pulled the plug on the 2011 Games, scheduled for Rochester, in November 2010 (the cancellation actually happened a year ago today).

The much smaller winter edition of the Empire State Games has been preserved through local support from the Lake Placid area.

Bell said his foundation's agreement with the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation -- which was the agency that the operation of the Games fell under -- allows his foundation to use the Empire State Games name and state equipment that had been dedicated to the event.

"It's an agreement to use the license, promote and develop the Games," said Bell. "We [sat] down with the state, looking to preserve the history of the Empire State Games, the history of it, the feel of it, as well as the competitive structure." 

There is no promise of state funding for the event, which is dissappointing although not a surprise. 

Bell said the financial template for the Games would be much like the 2010 Buffalo Games, albeit without state funding. There are plans for a participation fee for athletes but the overriding emphasis will be on obtaining private and corporate support. 

Bell said his group will be seeking title sponsorships -- the 2010 Games were "presented by First Niagara" -- along with other levels of contributions.

"We will be reaching out to First Niagara as well as many others," he said. "We've had extremely positive conversations with many sponsors and individuals. Until we had an agreement with the state, we didn't feel comfortable [pursuing those]. The announcement gives us the ability to knock on First Niagara's door, and others, confident that we have a license -- and product behind us that speaks for itself.

"There are going to be doubts -- it's raising a lot of money. We've had conversations with executives who manage large foundations, and not one person we've sat in front of has said this isn't do-able. Not one person says, 'You're out of your mind.' Actually, many have said, 'I wondered what had happened to the Games.' " 

Among the first plans is a "Save the Games" campaign to attract financial support, one that Bell hopes to involve athletes who have participated in past games, mentioning names like Abby Wambach and Christian Laettner, for example. 

Bell created the Empire State Sports Foundation in September along with University of Rochester professor Vincent Hope and Rochester native and former NHL player Rory Fitzpatrick.

Bell will receive a salary through the foundation, but the business is not-for-profit, as is the mission and what amounts to a tremendous undertaking.

"I will have a salary as will others that work with us, but more importantly this is chance to give back," Bell said. "When the Games were canceled in 2011, that didn't rest easily with me. Having relationships with other sports commissions and other state games, there's no reason they can have them and the state of New York can't.

"We have a huge passion for bringing the Games back. When you look back  at when Gov. [Hugh L.] Carey first initiated these games, he did it at time that was very much the same economically. It gave the State of New York something to cheer for and be proud of, and that should never go away. Sports is something that touches all of us. The money is out there, and we're going to look under every rock, crack and crevice to find it."

The foundation has the support of longtime Games director (and now-retired state Parks worker) Fred Smith, who said in a statement: 

"For more than three decades the Empire State Games provided something very special for the people of New York. I'm very pleased and excited that the Foundation is bringing them back in the form and tradition that made the Games such a popular and exciting event."

For more information about the Games or sponsorship opportunities, contact Bell at (585) 899-0127.

I'll have more details in Thursday's News.

* * * 

Some linking down memory lane (my blog after the cancellation of the 2011 games is linked above): 

* I wrote a column this summer headlined: "Bring back the Empire State Games."

* A few days after that I put together this blog post: "A wrapup of the Empire State Games that didn't happen."

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

buffalonews.com/highschools     facebook.com/preptalkblog     twitter.com/bufnewspreptalk

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About Prep Talk

Keith McShea

Keith McShea

Keith McShea has covered high school sports at The News since his hiring in 1999. The 1995 University at Buffalo graduate and Long Island native (North Babylon Bulldogs) covers — and live blogs — everything from scrimmages to state championships & helps head The News' All-Western New York selections.

@KeithMcSheaBN | [email protected]

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