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.
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Some linking down memory lane (my blog after the cancellation of the 2011 games is linked above):
Reggie Agbeko (St. Joe's), Stan Wier (East Aurora), Sterling Taplin (Williamsville North), Ryan Whepley (Archbishop Walsh), Matthew Hart (Canisius), Aaron Frasier (Seneca), Aaron White (Canisius), Jamaal Carter (City Honors), Adam Weir (Canisius), Jordan Williams (Bishop Timon-St. Jude). Head coach: Larry Jones (Depew). Assistants: Mike Haskell (Pioneer -- retired), Mike Berkun (Medaille College assistant).
All rosters (which show alternates) and a lot more information is available on the BCANY website.
Boys: Friday, vs. Long Island, 6 p.m.; Sat. vs. Mid-Hudson, 10:30 a.m.; Sat. vs Hudson Valley, 1:30 p.m. Girls: Friday vs. Long Island, 6 p.m.; Sat. vs. Mid-Hudson, 9 a.m.; Sat. vs. Hudson Valley, noon. Sunday (boys and girls games at same time): Seventh-place games, 9 a.m.; fifth-place games, 10:30 a.m.; third-place games, noon; championship games, 1:30 p.m.
Today would be the day where I would probably have finished my recovery.
From what? From covering the Empire State Games. The event would have been held from Wednesday of last week to this past Sunday. Monday I would have been wiped out from running all over the Rochester area and doing stories on some of the top athletes of Western New York.
It would have been exhausting, but it would have been worth it.
Here are a few more points & random thoughts & such regarding The Games that bounced around my head or hit the cutting room floor in the process of writing the column:
* One of my favorite things about the Games was the upstate-downstate accent showdown. As a native Long Islander who lived in Ithaca for a spell and has been a Western New Yorker for most of my adult life, I get a huge kick out of hearing the varying degrees of "ball" and "tournament," among others.
* I almost tied in the fact that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's father, Mario, obviously oversaw many Empire Games and perhaps that might help a return of the Games. At that point I'm pretty sure I would have set a record for governors mentioned in a sports section story.
OK, enough with the goofy stuff.
* Question No. 1 I can hear people asking: "Hasn't the Empire Games competition level dropped from years past? Isn't it a far cry from when future NBA stars and Olympians would compete?"
No. While sport specialization has led to sports like basketball not getting the absolute top level of player, there are many other sports which had major Division I recruits and future stars.
Even with the AAU events, hoops still had some very good players and provided a competitive event. The problem of not getting the very top talent was mostly due to a conflict with major AAU events in the last weekend of July. But check out the Western roster at this upcoming weekend's BCANY Hoops Showcase, an event organized by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York to replace the Empire Games -- it's a super collection of talent. What a difference a week makes.
Hockey (Chicago Blackhawk Pat Kane of Buffalo leads a long list of top tier talent through the years) and lacrosse (full of players going to major programs) are just two examples of sports that had their best competing. Track and field saw many of WNY's best last summer. Same for soccer, volleyball, baseball and softball.
The "smaller" the sport, often the better the chance of having a top level of talent, just because the Empires provided those sports with a stage they didn't get elsewhere. Synchronized swimming and gymnastics are two examples where the best would complete because, among other reasons, it was a multi-sport event.
* Questions No. 2 through 25 or so I can hear people asking focus on the concept of Buffalo becoming a permanent home for the Games.
Like I wrote in the column, it would be challenging -- it would take some serious organization and dedicated staff -- but it's possible, and there would be some serious economic impact to reward the host area. Maybe I need to hook up with the leaders of local hotel and restaurant business associations to help push this part :-)
Being able to pick the brains of the small, dedicated staff that ran the Games out of Albany is the key. There is a template to run a statewide event out of a very small office. That's they way it was done for years. It can be done again.
Maybe there's a Buffalo-Rochester partnership so there's shared workload and shared benefits. Western (a region that includes both cities) has a super-strong tradition in the Empire Games and I'm not sure another region in the state would be as well equipped to take it on.
What about other sites? Syracuse was the permanent home of the Games early on, but they haven't hosted in a while and seemed to have been disinterested with hosting. I have long said that Binghamton was the best site to hold the Games because of the size of the city and its ability to embrace the Games, but that city doesn't have the amount of companies to be potential sponsors, nor a title sponsor along the lines of First Niagara.
Would downstaters on Long Island and New York City make the trip every year? I think so. All but two Empire Games (Long Island and Westchester County) were held "downstate." All others required a serious road trip: Poughkeepsie, Albany, Binghamton, Syracuse/Cortland, Utica, Ithaca, Rochester, Buffalo. Sure, that road trip is longest to Buffalo, but it hardly deterred participation in previous games.
Long Island has had a great Games tradition despite only hosting the Games once. New York City was at times hit-or-miss with its organization, but that was largely due, I think, to the unenviable task of trying to promote a amateur, grass roots-type event in a city of millions.
And, take it from someone who has road-tripped LI-to-Buffalo literally hundreds of times: it's a pretty decent drive. The key is cutting through New Jersey and Pennsylvania: George Washington Bridge to I-80 across Jersey, I-380 up to Pa. and I-81 to Binghamton. I-86/Rt. 17 West to I-390, then the Rt. 36/63 cut through to Batavia, and little bit of the Thruway and there you are (you can also stay on 81 to Syracuse and take the Thruway). Eight hours ballpark, but it can be done in less than seven :-)
What about the competition? Western dominated the overall medal count in all but of three of the Games. Why should they get a homefield advantage and likely have a superteam? Good point. Here's were some outside-the-box stuff has to come into play. The Empire Games have always had six regions, but maybe a new Games could follow the BCANY Hoops approach by splitting up Buffalo and Rochester (it also split the population-rich Hudson Valley into HV and mid-Hudson). The eight teams would be a curveball to the template of the Games, which is why this is outside the box. But it's worth a look & listen.
What about the participation fees? Can the visitors get a break on those? It's worth throwing out there. Last year's Games required significant fees from participants for the first time. Those fees are a key revenue stream to make this operation work. Since Buffalonians would not have the travel costs of other regions, perhaps the home team would pay a few dollars more per competitor to balance out the gas money, hotel rooms and restaurant bills racked up by families traveling from out-of-town (which are the same expenses that ultimately benefit the Buffalo area).
With the dedication the company showed to last year's Games, I think a successful restart of the event, whether it is run out of Albany or run by -- and based out of -- Buffalo, would rely heavily on First Niagara's involvement.
And here is some feedback from the original column received via email:
* "Great column today ... you had me at 'Clinton's Ditch.' The Empire State Games' demise was something I'd never have imagined not too long ago. I sincerely hope your comments light a fire under the right tinder; it would be awesome if Greater Buffalo/UB could take the reins because we unquestionably have the best collective array of facilities to pull this off." -- Frank, City of Tonawanda
* "You are so right! As a mom of a baseball coach for the varsity boys for the past four years, we loved every minute of the Games each year we attended -- and my son was only a coach; he never had the opportunity to play. What can we do to get your idea going??? Whatever you do: Count me in! Petitions, calls, etc. Please keep your fire burning on this because I know Buffalo would certainly benefit. Hopefully John Koemel will respond to you and with some movers & shakers. New Era Cap perhaps, Bob Rich, Ralph Wilson, Terry Pegula, Chris Collins, Kathy Hochul, Tim Kennedy, the Gronkowski Brothers? Jim Kelly? And all the former athletes you can contact." -- Nancy
* "Empire State Games never to be forgotten, hopefully to be restored in Buffalo! Thank you for well-written article," -- Dorothy, Town of Tonawanda.
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What happens now? I'm not sure. Write a letter to the editor or, better yet, to Gov. Cuomo.
I'd love to have to write an update regarding the Empire State Games.
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.]
Here's another highlight from the same team -- except this is the chant I wrote about in my story.
It's become such a tradition for Western volleyball that before the men's open team took to the court for their late final Saturday night, one member of team yelled over, "Hey, girls scholastic! Come over here and do your thing!"
Here's the final point of the women's open team's win.
Here's the final out of the softball team's gold-medal game victory.
Here's the final out of the softball team's win over Hudson Valley on Friday morning.
9:48 a.m. Allen Wilson reports that the Western men's scholastic basketball team won the bronze medal with a 75-64 victory over Long Island.
11:15 a.m. Update from Amanda Bremer at hockey: Western beats Hudson Valley, 7-1, to win the gold medal in the round-robin competition. I'm at Buffalo State where Western will try to win its 32nd gold in 32 Games.
12:17 p.m. We have a report from Allen Wilson that the Western men's open basketball team has won gold. The Western synchro team did win it's 32nd straight gold.
2:19 p.m. Thanks to TML for the boys lacrosse report below as Western won bronze with a 13-7 win over Adirondack -- just about where you would expect them, I suppose, a quality result; at the same time anything less would be a disappointment considering the team's aim to take down Central or Long Island.
Other results rolling in ...
Marquel Slaughter reports from the North French Soccer Complex that the women's open team won gold with a 2-1 victory over Central while the women's scholastic team fell, 1-0, to Adirondack and took silver. The men's open team lost the bronze game, 2-0.
The baseball medal games, postponed from yesterday to today due to inclement weather, were not played at all. The field must have been too soaked. Western, which was leading in the bronze game, was awarded the bronze based on the standings after the preliminaries. Long Island took gold and Central silver; Western suffered very close losses to both.
3:05 p.m. Just got word from a media brother of mine that the Western women's open hoops team took silver after falling to New York City in the gold game.
4:10 p.m. Overheard in the media room -- Western women's lacrosse fell in the gold medal game, 17-7, to Long Island.
7:43 p.m. Heading back to the office to finish up some more ESG stuff. Whewwww.
11:26 p.m. I just put up a video-related post -- check out a nice wrapup video of the Games by News Reporter Denise Jewell Gee as well as some iPhone clips, including a resounding end to the women's scholastic volleyball gold medal match.
11:27 p.m. I hereby declare the 2010 Buffalo Empire State Games over for The Buffalo News, buffalonews.com and the Prep Talk blog. Be sure to check out the stuff in Monday's paper and on the Web (some is up now).
The countdown to the first day of high school football practice is 22 days.
Hello from Day Three of the Empire State Games, where I'll keep you updated with some action early in the day along with my travels.
12:50 p.m. Western softball will play Long Island for the gold -- but the game has been moved up from 3 p.m. to 1:30 at the Audubon Recreation Complex due to poor weather forecast for this evening.
In baseball, the games have been moved up as well. The bronze medal game will start immediately after the 1 p.m. game between Western and Central; with the gold medal game (originally scheduled for 7 p.m.) starting immediately after the bronze.
If Western wins, it plays for gold; if not I believe they are headed for the bronze game.
It's a good move by Games officials because of the poor forecast later in the day, when showers are supposed to move in.
12:55 p.m. The Western women's hockey team beat Adirondack, 7-0, this morning and will playing for an undefeated round-robin record and a gold medal when it faces Long Island at 6:30 p.m. at Audubon.
Long Island is also undefeated, although it has two wins and two ties. Western is 4-0. By points, I think LI could win the gold on a tiebreaker if it beat Western because it would have beaten them head-to-head. No matter what, it should be a great finishing game.
3:34 p.m. After a lot of running around, some big news.
WESTERN SOFTBALL WINS THE GOLD MEDAL with a 3-0 victory over Long Island. Lindsay (Garbacz) Morris pitched the shutout while Michelle Fridey had a two-out, two-run single in the top of the seventh for some big insurance runs. I'll have video posted soon hopefully.
Western baseball, however, will play for bronze after falling to Central, 2-1, in eight innings.
6:32 p.m. We're back after a stop in the media center and some major coordinating with our ESG team -- we're at Alumni Arena for the finales in volleyball.
7 p.m. WESTERN WOMEN'S OPEN VOLLEYBALL WINS THE GOLD, beating Central in four games. It's the first of four finals in which Western can win gold. Western won, 25-23, 22-25, 25-19, 25-14. In the fourth game, Western was just too much for a Central team that seemed to run out of gas.
7:19 p.m. Make it two-for-two for Western. MEN'S SCHOLASTIC VOLLEYBALL HAS WON GOLD. It won the first game in a marathon but didn't have as much drama in the next two in a 30-28, 25-18, 25-20 victory over Long Island.
A report from photographer Jim McCoy, who I couldn't hear too well on the phone: Western and Long Island are tied in the final women's hockey game.
7:38 p.m. The women's scholastic final has just started as top-seeded Western takes on Long Island. The men's open final follows with Western, the second seed entering today's playoff round, meeting Adirondack.
8:10 p.m. Long Island making an early statement in the women's scholastic game. LI took the first game, 27-25, and went up, 9-1, to start the second. Only twice in the history of Games volleyball, which goes back to the first Games in 1978, has a region other than Western or Long Island won the gold, and it hasn't happened in 28 years (Hudson Valley won 1980 and 82).
8:24 p.m. The second-longest team gold-medal streak is definitely in jeopardy -- Long Island won the second game, 25-16. Western has won seven straight golds.
8:30 p.m. Word passed along from a friendly media coworker. WESTERN WOMEN'S HOCKEY HAS WON GOLD after scoring two late goals against Long Island.
8:48 p.m. Things are tightening up here -- Western wins the third game, 25-18, to cut the Long Island lead to 2-1. One important thing to note: If Long Island wins this match, there is an additional game to determine the gold because Long Island came out of the loser's bracket of today's playoffs.
9:08 p.m. Western has tied it up. Great effort to even things up at 2-2 with a 25-14 victory in which Western was in control from the start.
9:24 p.m. Western got off to a 5-1 start before the match was delayed at least five minutes, maybe 10, when Long Island protested a call. A committee was formed, a player had to sign a paper, I couldn't believe it. It was like filing an accident report with the cops. Western keeps rolling -- it is up, 10-3, in a game that will go to 15.
9:32 p.m. WESTERN WOMEN'S SCHOLASTIC VOLLEYBALL HAS WON GOLD. The home team lived up to their sing-song-ing with a 15-10 victory in the fifth and deciding game. Quite a comeback for Western. Fun stuff to watch, as it always is here on ESG Saturday.
10:59 p.m. Back from interviews and writing my story for first edition -- without the men's open game. Talk about some serious hitting in this one. Whoa. Western won the first game, 25-21, and the second, 25-22.
11:22 p.m. WESTERN MEN'S OPEN VOLLEYBALL HAS WON GOLD after a 25-21, 25-22, 25-14 victory over Adirondack.
The victory gives Western a sweep of the volleyball medals for the first time since it accomplished the feat in 2002. Western also won all four in 1993.
12:20 a.m. Back at the media center after redoing the end to the volleyball story. Found out that astoundingly the women's open basketball had a four-way tie for first place and that Western will play for gold after winning some sort of a mini-game. Wow.
It's Day Two of the Empire State Games, and I'll keep you updated here with my travels and any news.
Later on, Amanda Bremer will have her post going from the media center with more results, and we'll have additional posts through the day from other reporters in the field.
I won't be running around like a lunatic like I did yesterday, but I still have my work cut out for me. I'm going to try and catch up with not only Williamsville North girls hoop coach Clare Crowley, but all four of her players who are involved in the Games. The kicker is that all four are playing different sports, and none of them are playing hoops. Can't make this stuff up.
The girls are Corrine Genovese (softball), Allie Ahern (field hockey), Jenny Piaggione (soccer) and Nikki Attea (volleyball).
9:40 a.m. There's rain coming down and I'll soon find out if any events are delayed. Based on past experience, if it remains a light rain, most, if not all, events will muddle through. Lightning is the big thing that can delay the Games. Knock on wood.
I'm headed to field hockey first to talk to Allie Ahern of Williamsville North. They're playing a 9 a.m. game. After that I'm headed to a media fitness challenge at UB. Insert punchline here.
10:44 a.m. Western field hockey wins, 2-0, over Central to bounce back from an opening loss to always-tough Hudson Valley.
Western got several great saves from Tara Lamberti (Pittsford) in the final minutes as Central kept pushing. Catherine Willard of Pittsford scored on an assist from Shannon Martin of Williamsville 20:31 into the first half while Williamsville's Emily Woods added a goal 24:43 into the second half.
I talked with Allie Ahern, who is verbally committed to Michigan State, about her experience in the Games with all of here Williamsville North crew -- she said she watched Corrine Genovese play softball yesterday and was headed to volleyball to watch Nikki Attea today (I think I'll be at those games as well).
Now it's off to BlueCross BlueShield's fitness challenge. I just saw videographer extraordinare James Acton heading in so I know the competition is big-time. News Reporter Charlie Specht is also in the competition -- which I think is unfair because I think he is a decade younger than me. Here we go -- I've been typing on my laptop in the parking lot by UB Stadium, but I'm heading over. The course, which fans can participate in for prizes tomorrow) is in a field next to the lot -- you can't miss it on your drive to the track venue.
The important thing is that I'm competing for the $500 prize for charity on behalf of the Tom Borrelli Memorial Award and Scholarship Fund.
12:17 p.m. Time to catch up on a few things.
The weather report: Right now there is a very slight drizzle coming down on my car as I type in the parking lot of the Audubon Recreation Complex. The rain had stopped during my top-four fitness challenge finish and before I caught some volleyball. The skies are grey, the air is really thick, but it seems as if the clouds are moving through quite quickly so it appears that while the weather might be a bother, it shouldn't hold anything up.
I saw from a distance that there is softball action going on while Adirondack and Central were on the baseball field.
The women's scholastic volleyball team kept rolling, although they'll be miffed that their perfect preliminary record was spoiled in the third game as Western it won two of three against Hudson Valley. Western had won all of its games Thursday (2-0 matches, 6-0 games) coming into today. It won the first two very handily, 25-26, and 25-10, but fell in the third game (which is played to 15) by a 18-16 score.
Afterwards I talked with Nikki Attea, who will be a junior at Williamsville North this fall. She said she's not surprised coach Crowley made the open team -- coach bangs away at the 6-3 Attea in the post during practice. Attea said she has been on two unofficial recruiting visits for volleyball, to Syracuse and Ohio State.
As far as that fitness challenge obstacle course, Specht came in third -- only less than a second ahead of me, so I got that going for me, which is nice. I'm disappointed my football throws just missed the target -- lost some time there, but not as much as I did maneuvering through the hockey part. Ch. 7 swept the men's and women's categories while Acton was second. Told you he was going to be tough.
The obstacle course is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday -- it's in a great spot, between the track venue and the volleyball venue on their biggest days of competition. Fans can win pretty cool prizes from the Bills and Sabres. Sponsor BlueCross BlueShield said the idea is to have everyone be able to compete at the Empire Games -- which is pretty cool. Should be something companies look at in future games. Good PR, fun for fans and it contributes to the festival-like feel of the Games.
12:25 p.m. Another weather update -- the raindrops are getting heavier, so much so that I think it could put the baseball and softball games in jeopardy of a delay.
12:38 p.m. Just got out of the car to check the status of the games as the rain has subsided. Looks like baseball will be back to action soon -- teams are on the field. I think softball may have played through it. The skies are dark enough to have the lights on at UB Stadium across the street, but there hasn't been any downpour.
1:59 p.m. Quick update: Western softball looks headed to a medal after it won its second game of the day, 7-3, over Hudson Valley. It started with a 10-0 victory over New York City, a 50-pitch, five-inning perfect game by Lindsay (Garbacz) Morris.
Morris then came on in relief after Hudson Valley scored three runs on Chelsea Plimpton to take a 3-2 lead after two. Morris took over with one out in the second and only allowed one baserunner (on a hit) the rest of the day.
Western scored twice in the second and twice again in the fourth to take a 4-3 lead. Rosie Russell served an opposite-field RBI single to left in the fifth for a 5-3 lead and Dana Carter smashed a triple over the right fielder's head to score two in the sixth.
Ashley Bonetto went 4 for 4 with a home run and six RBIs against New York City.
The rain continues its on-again, off-again act -- at the conclusion of Western's softball game about 15 minutes ago, it started coming down steadily, but by the time I made the short drive to the North French Soccer Complex it had stopped.
2:59 p.m. Another trip to see a Will North athlete, another win. The Western women's scholastic soccer team scored all of its goals in a huge second half to beat Long Island, 4-0.
Jenny Griffin (Williamsville) and Jenna Raepple (Grand Island) each scored and had an assist, with Griffin scoring off a Raepple pass in the 50th minute for the first goal. Raepple added a goal in the 75th minute on an assist by Alexis Kroese (Amherst), Kori Thorne (Rochester) put a missile of a direct kick in the top of the net and Griffin set up Carissima Catrona (Williamsville) for the fourth goal in the 90th minute.
In perhaps bigger news, the SUN IS OUT. All of a sudden it's a bright, hot, humid day almost just like yesterday.
I talked with Piaggione and she had some great quotes about coach Crowley, who the players seem to be comfortable calling simply "Clare."
Word from baseball is that Western lost to Long Island, 5-4, and their 4 p.m. game has been pushed back to 6 p.m. due to this morning's showers. Thanks to former Cheektowaga baseball coach Dan Kaplan, who gave me that info at the soccer game.
3:36 p.m. A quick stop in the media room to recharge (batteries and stomach) and I'm heading up to Niagara University to see the women's open team play. I'll see Crowley on the court after seeing her four players in their respective sports.
We've got confirmation that baseball's starting time was moved to 6 p.m.
Update from Marquel Slaughter, who was at soccer to round up all four games: The men's and women's open teams both beat New York City to join the women's scholastic squad at 2-0. The women won by a shootout for the second straight day after a 1-1 tie while the men won, 3-0. The men's scholastic team fell to 0-2 with a 4-1 loss to Long Island.
4:50 p.m. Man, that Grand Island bridge construction is a booger. I got here about 20 minutes ago.
But hello, finally, from Niagara University's Gallagher Center, where Western has a 34-26 halftime lead on New York City. I'm here to talk to Crowley after the game, but this is one loaded team. Some nice team play -- a staple of Bill Agronin-coached teams in the Empire Games -- has helped the hosts to a nice lead.
Rochester's Melissa Alwardt (leading scorer at U. of Rochester) had a nice swat on defense, nailed a baseline jumper and delivered a slick blind pass over her head for a basket for Marisa Clark. Bridgette Burke (Lockport) drained a three.
4:56 p.m. Start of the second half. Western starts Ashley Rath (Victor, sophomore-to-be at College of St. Rose), Megan Shoniker (Rochester, Rhode Island senior-to-be), Alyssa Fenyn (Newark, Virginia Tech sophomore-to-be), Clark (Hilton, Medaille grad and assistant coach) and Liz Flooks (Niagara senior-to-be).
5:44 p.m.We have a final score in women's open basketball: Western 90, New York City 59.
Was doing a lot of planning for tomorrow during the game; sorry about no updates. Off for interviews and back to the media center.
5:20 p.m. Synchro Swimming: Western swept the podium in the figure competition.Anita Alvarez of Kenmore took the gold with a score of 69.449. She swims with the Tonawanda Aquettes. Nicole Cardinale and Sarah Bauer of Williamsville took the silver and bronze respectively.
4:47 p.m. Western baseball defeated New York City 11-3 in the scholastic division. They led off with four runs each in the first and second innings to take a commanding 8-1 lead. Rohn Pierce (Lockport) allowed seven hits in the win. Chris Bostick (Rochester) had 4 RBIs.
4:13 p.m. No surprises for local track standouts Ashley Fields (Amherst) and Kala Allen (Williamsville East). Fields and Allen posted the top two times in the 200m semi-finals. Fields clocked in at 24.36 and Allen posted a 25.06. They will run in the finals Friday morning.
3:58 p.m. Here is the first tennis score in. The women's team fell 3-2 to New York City in the scholastic division. Margarita Kotok and Taylor Cole (East Aurora) won singles matches for Western.
3:33 p.m. Here are some volleyball scores. Hoping to get some more detailslater.
Scholastic: The women’s team defeated New York City 25-15,25-7,15-13.
Open: The women's team topped Adirondack 25-15, 25-17, 15-11. The men's team couldn't match that result and fell to Adirondack 25-27, 18-25, 15-13.
3:08 p.m. Women's Lacrosse: Lauren Scanlan from Lake Shore High School had two goals in Western’s 14-5 loss to Long Island. Scanlan was selected as an All Western New York Honorable Mention in 2010. Western scored all five of their goals in the second half. Long Island has taken the gold the last three Games.
Field Hockey: The Western team was shutout 3-0 by Hudson Valley in the scholastic division. Western was outshot 9-0.
There are 24 separate sports going on today at the Empire State Games, and I'm going to try to get to all of them.
And yes, thank you, I hereby accept your nomination for a medal in ESG men's open lunacy.
A note about the number of sports. There are 25 sports in the Empire State Games -- that counts basketball and lacrosse as two sports although in both the men and women are a different venues. I'm still going to try and get to everything.
8:45 a.m. The events get underway soon and I've got my work seriously cut out for me. I've got 12 different sites targeted. The tricky thing is the schedule -- some sports are only holding one event at one time today (cycling at 10 a.m. on Grand Island, bowling at noon at Transit Lanes, synchronized swimming at Buffalo State at 2:15 p.m.), while some events are over by 1 p.m. (archery and canoe/kayak at the University at Buffalo -- at least those two are at the same spot :-) ).
What's not on my schedule? Only judo, since it takes the first day off. Hopefully judo fans won't want to go all wazari or ippon on me. (Those are kinds of throws in the sport, which I'm sure you were aware of).
I've put together my own schedule of the day on my notebook, a very poor man's graph of what events are going on at what times. It doesn't look so great -- probably, you might be suggesting, because it was never meant to be put together.
Here we go. Stay tuned.
9:27 a.m. The clock is ticking and we have no events yet. This is going to be harder than I thought. Part of the challenge of the Empire Games is helping plan out our coverage and that just takes time, including pulling over on the side of the road to send some emails to our ESG team. I've also got to worry about battery life on the laptop (and my backup). We're targeting a midday stop at the media center to get our bearings in all of those departments.
10:55 a.m. OK, we're off and running (and paddling and wheeling). It's four down and 20 to go. I hit archery, tennis and canoe/kayak at UB, then made the slow but picturesque drive up West River Road on Grand Island to see cycling's 10-mile time trial.
9:52 a.m. Archery and tennis are located next door to each other next to UB's Ellicott Complex dormitory.
At archery I snapped a picture after the mass of archers walked the length of the range to their targets to see if they hit their marks.
Among the action on the tennis courts was the Western taking an early lead on New York City. Coach Chris Horgan of Medina was on hand, as he as been for every Games since the sport joined the event in 1990. This year his daughter, recent St. Bonaventure graduate Eileen, was coaching along side him.
The elder Horgan informed me that Jonah Epstein of Nichols was up a set in singles, as was Michael Kranz of Lancaster. The doubles teams were also doing well: Kevin Layer (Clarence) and Michael Rusk (East Amherst) as well as the team of Brian Chowaniec (Lancaster) and Sawyer Dina (Orchard Park).
Soon I hustled back to my parking spot in the Red Jacket dorm parking lot, where I don't think I've parked since spending two years there, oh, about 19 Empire State Games ago. I also won't get into any dorm disciplinary actions that may have been administered following the Great Hallway Water Fight of 1991.
My local knowledge helped me find the canoe/kayak venue on Lake LaSalle, which was visible from my first attempt near the UB bookstore, but I had the wrong side of the lake. FYI, that doesn't count as seeing the sport. No drive-bys here. I've got to get to the actual venue.
10:11 a.m. The canoe/kayak competition was in a break before the men's K2 race. I snapped a picture of some kayakers practicing and then hit the road.
10:35 a.m. I'm on Grand Island and made my way to West River Road, where I pass many solo men's cyclists during their 10-mile individual time trial.
At the start/finish line, I get a video of Brendan Housler of Rochester starting his trial while Pat Merrick of Hamburg finished his ("I got a flat!" Merrick reported upon finishing).
Coach Jonathan Howard of Rochester informed me that Games veteran Jay Joslyn of Grand Island is the odds-on favorite (I'm guessing he knows the course :-) ).
10:50 a.m. We leave cycling and get an update from Rodney McKissic at Canisius College, where the Western men's lacrosse team fell, 10-4, to Long Island.
When I took his call I was on West River Road, which is so close to Canada the call came over on the Rogers Communications network instead of AT&T's! That might not be pretty when the bill comes.
I'm off to Niagara Falls High School (fencing) and Niagara University (women's basketball and women's lacrosse).
11:32 a.m. Five down, 19 to go. Just caught the first live fencing of my life.
Can't tell you much about what went on, other than I believe Adirondack's Gillian Litynski defeated Liz Feller of Hudson Valley.
12:58 p.m. Filed some updates and coordinated a bunch with photographers, editors and writers.
We're thankful to Niagara Falls High School for letting me park at a table in a maintenance room -- good place to catch up, especially with much-needed power for the laptop.
Wolverines wrestling coach Israel Martinez just popped in here looking for his jump ropes -- he's holding his wrestling camp this week so the building is very busy. I hope none of the wrestling crew take a wrong turn into an epee, sabre or foil.
Off we go. With all the time spent typing, downloading, emailing and talking, we might have to make our first sacrifices of the day -- bowling out on Transit Road is in jeopardy while shooting will be a game-time decision after I hit Niagara U.
1:41 p.m. Found a shady spot in a parking lot at a very sunny Niagara U. to report that it is now seven down, 17 to go. In women's basketball, Central's scholastic team was throttling New York City, 73-38, with 2:02 left in the game.
At women's lacrosse, Hudson Valley and Long Island were just getting started. Teams had tents set up in a spot near a parking lot -- good move by them. It is a really warm day as I'm scooting around. I am now nominating myself for a medal in men's open jogging in flip-flops.
Like I said earlier, that takes care of basketball and lacrosse for me, but I'd still like to get to the men's versions of those sports at Canisius College. We shall see. I am running out of time.
Decision time -- shooting or no shooting?
2:29 p.m. I figured it was not a good idea to not cover a sport in which people have guns.
I wish I could stick around longer at the Niagara County Sportsman's Association in Ransomville, because the shooting competition seemed like some really interesting stuff, but I had to snap a photo and get back on the move.
After driving through a windy driveway through a wooded area, you walk along the same road some more. As I got closer I heard the popping of gunfire and soon after I came upon the central building and several ranges.
I caught part of the scholastic free rifle prone, in which the shooters lay belly-down on the ground and fire at targets, shooting, reloading and shooting again. This is going to sound funny, but other than the popping of the guns firing, it is a very quiet, calm environment. A row of shooters goes about their business while fans and coaches watched from behind a barrier.
2:41 p.m. We have an update from Marquel Slaughter at the Audubon Ice Arena -- the Western women's scholastic ice hockey team has a 3-0 lead over Hudson Valley with 2:45 left in the second period, thanks in part to a goal from Emily Pfalzer.
2:44 p.m. We're hitting the road again. It's eight down, 16 to go, but I think we're giving up our quest to bat 1.000.
We're going to forgo bowling out at Transit Lanes as we head back to Buffalo and UB after a stop at weightlifting down the road at Niagara County Community College. One thing that didn't help bowling was that there were none of the many bowling-loving Buffalonians in the bowling competition, which is one of the great mysteries of the Empire State Games.
3:09 p.m. Just caught weightlifting (ninth sport of the day) at NCCC, where Jerry Sullivan and photographer Mark Mulville are on hand to do a story on Amherst's Kurt Silvestro, a longtime competitor in the games. Hudson Valley's Leandro Curran of Hudson Valley completed his first attempt at the clean and jerk as the 56-kilogram class (123.25).
Meanwhile, having three staff members in the weightlifting venue sets a Empire State Games record for The Buffalo News.
With my travels up north and the blogging and working, it looks quite doubtful for synchronized swimming and rowing, which end their action in the early afternoon. We'll find out.
3:21 p.m. It's getting more doubtful by the second as the clock keeps on ticking -- but it's just a very busy day. Just talked with Amanda Bremer, who has a blog entry up that she will be updating from the media center.
Slaughter also checked in and let me know that Western women's scholastic ice hockey wins their opener, 5-0.
4:18 p.m. I am feeling gold-medal good after not only making it to rowing (10th sport of the day) at the West Side Rowing Club, but having seen the final event of the day -- the women's eights, won handily by Western over Adirondack. I'll post video on it later. Gotta run.
4:29 p.m. I leave the Buffalo State Sports Arena defeated, almost as upset as a loud wrestler who is walking to the parking lot really angry after apparently losing his match.
I did see wrestling (11th sport of the day) -- with four mats set up in a different location than most are used too: the ice-less hockey rink. But I missed out on not only synchronized swimming but also gymnastics. We'll see if I make it back for the evening gymnastics session.
I don't feel too bad about missing synchronized swimming, and not because I don't appreciate the sport. Today's competition was the figures event, which is done by one swimmer. Which begs the question, synchronized with what?
4:55 p.m. In this age of wireless internet and iPhones and everything, there's nothing more reliable than pen and paper.
Except when you put your notebook in your lap while driving and end up with ball-point blue scrawled all over your shorts. Just enough time for a quick trip home for a uniform change.
5:10 p.m. We've updated the blog and we're either off to swimming downtown or soccer up in Amherst. I think I'm going with swimming because Mark Mulville was scheduled to photograph soccer. I suppose we'll spread the wealth. Also missed will be softball, which is a bummer, but their games have probably concluded by now. However, Mary Jo Monnin was out there today covering Western's games so at least The News was there, too.
5:11 p.m. Check that. We're heading to UB, where I might be able to catch field hockey and diving before they finish up, that gets me closer to Audobon as well and the media center -- where I've got some writing and organizing to do for tomorrow's paper.
5:21 p.m. Not out the door yet. Update from Marquel Slaughter at the Audubon ice arena: men's scholastic ice hockey wins its opener, 4-2, over Long Island.
5:38 p.m. Good news is that the rowing video and a wrestling photo are posted and I talked things over with the office. Bad news is that the stupid clock keeps ticking.
6:13 p.m. Our batting average is getting better.
We dropped by the Audubon Recreation Complex and caught exactly one pitch (we're in a hurry) of Long Island vs. Hudson Valley baseball (12th sport of the day), then headed inside.
We caught the last minute of play in the first period in men's ice hockey (13th) as Central held a 2-0 lead over Adirondack, then went upstairs and peered down to the women's ice hockey (14th sport) rink, where Adirondack had a 1-0 lead on Central.
While I'm here, I'm heading across the Audubon Parkway to UB for track and volleyball.
6:21 p.m. Walked into UB Stadium, the track and field (15th) venue, to catch a dominating performance by Central's Brian Coogan (East Syracuse) in winning the men's scholastic 10,000 meters. Brian Bogdan of Buffalo took the silver.
Coogan crossed the finish line, and I crossed the exit line. I'm heading a parking lot or two over to Alumni Arena.
6:32 p.m. OK. We're at 16 of 24 after a quick stop at volleyball. Just the setup of the four courts going at once is impressive from high in the bleachers.
On the court right in front of me, the Western women's scholastic team won its second game against Central. Both victories were by double digits.
We're heading to the media center at UB's Student Union, where the food selection has vastly improved since my days pulling all-nighters at the Spectrum, the student newspaper -- but that's not important right now. The media center is located at the Student Union, and I'm going to get some work done before trying to catch some last few events.
9:25 p.m. Still at the media center -- just too much stuff to put together for the paper. So much for that trip downtown to try and make it to Buffalo State for gymnastics, ECC-City for boxing or Canisius College for men's hoops and lacrosse.
Well, 16 out of 24 isn't bad. Back to work.
* * *
Stay tuned to the blog and keep an eye out for other posts as we get updates from reporters at various venues throughout the day.
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.
Lauren Nicole Mariacher joined The News in 2009 after graduating from the Columbia University School of Journalism. The Elma native and Iroquois graduate can usually be found on a sideline, capturing highlights for PrepTalkTV. She also hosts Prep Talk's weekly live show, with Keith McShea, as well as The News' live postgame Bills show — [BN]TheHuddle.