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Empire State Winter Games On, Summer Games Off

By Joyce Gramza


Oswego, NY – "It was really exciting," Mexico High School senior Kaylea Morse recalls. "I was nervous when I went there and then when I got there, it was just like, so much fun."

Morse describes the excitement of participating in the Empire State Summer Games, held in Buffalo this past July. She represented her school in track and field.

"I got involved just because my coach said it would be another good experience for me to go to, so I was just, like, OK, I'll try it," she says. "I didn't really know what to expect when I got there but it was a great experience and something I'll never forget."

"There were so many people coming to watch. And, like, on the first night there's this big ceremony and there was like a big band and there was a ton of people there We had to walk out on the football field and the whole field was just filled with all the athletes," she says.

And that was before she earned a bronze medal in the high jump.

"This was my first year going and I had a blast and just, like, standing on the podium and everything, it was just a great feeling."

Morse has been training every day in hopes of a second year at the Games planned for July 2011 in Rochester. So the news that the state has declared them canceled is not a great feeling. "I'm very upset about it," Morse says.

Governor David Paterson says he shares that sentiment. "It's sad," he says. "We had to do this two years ago and it's sad that we're going to have to do this now."

"When you get to this deep a level of cutting, where we're now laying off workers, and where we're now cutting into the 43rd and 44th billion dollar of reductions that we started making when I became Governor, you're going to unfortunately see some very needed services and activities go by the boards."

New York's Division of Budget says canceling the 2011 Games will save the state $2.8 million. That's aside from whatever it saves in staff cuts at the Department of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation, which runs the Games.

Paterson said it's unlikely that New York's next Governor will be able to reverse the decision considering that the state still faces a nine billion dollar deficit.

"Obviously, if revenues come in, the next Governor could make a decision about the Summer Games, but I wouldn't expect that there'd be a reversal," he says.

Games officials say they hope the Games might return at some point, but swimming coach Matt Scorzelli says following their cancellation in 2009, he's afraid they might not survive a new loss of momentum.

"It's hard to tell what the impact's going to be. I know it's going to change some of the swimmers. Quite a few of the swimmers won't even bother swimming through the summer because there's no Empire State Games now," Scorzelli says.

Scorzelli is president of the Mexico Tiger Sharks swim club. He says the Games impact many more athletes than just those who compete in them."

"To get ready for tryouts, they're probably training, past their regular training, an additional three months," he says.

"It's a big deal," says Scorzelli. "And it always was a big deal when I was a kid to try out for the Empire State Games, and then to get selected for it was huge."

That, Lake Placid officials say, is why they will proceed with the Games without help from the state.

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall says it's not about economics.

"In our family alone, three of our four children have had direct experience with the Games and always looked forward to them," Randall says. "I think they were so proud to participate in the opening ceremonies and have the privilege of wearing that Empire State winter jacket that was given to each competitor as they walked into the opening ceremony site. And, certainly, as parents, it made us very proud of the recognition of their success that brought them there."

Randall adds that one of his sons, a ski jumper, at age 42 still participates as a master skier.

But the economics don't exactly hurt the case for saving the Games, either.

"It probably adds, in just that one weekend, it probably adds a million-plus dollars to Lake Placid's economy," Randall says.

Rochester estimates the Summer Games cost around $1.5 million to put on, and add at least $10 million to the local economy.

They say that they, too, will explore whether the event could move forward without state funding.

Some 1500 athletes participate in the Winter Games and more than 6000 in the Summer event.