The Blackwell Blog

The Empire (Games) strikes back

One of the joys of this job, during summers past, was getting a week to do actual hard work, and have some fun, while covering (or attending) the Empire State Games.

At least that was the case. State budget woes wiped out the summer edition in 2009, and even when it came back a year later in Buffalo with huge help from First Niagara, state government permanently pulled the plug late in 2010, refusing to restore the $2.7 million that went into the event.

So for two summers, there was no mid-summer Olympic-style festival (which started here in 1977, and most of the other states copied) that gave you a chance to see a wide spectrum of young athletic talent, all in one place, a taste of the busy fall, winter and spring sports feasts ahead.

That has been rectified now. On Thursday, an announcement was made that the Empire State Sports Foundation, a new non-profit entity headed by Michael Carey (son of Governor Hugh Carey, who created the ESG), is bringing the show back July 24-28 in Rochester. And the Winter version will continue, too, in Lake Placid.

To promote the event, soccer great Abby Wambach and Steve Gionta, who went from the ESG to the NHL (at least when they weren't locked out), are signing up, joining the ESSF's Board of Governors.

That this step wasn't taken years ago is a regret that, I'm sure, all of the current ESG folks still have. True, it's impossible to get all of the top athletes in every ESG sport in one place, and the participation fees were a bit onerous once they got offered.

Still, anyone who ever went to these games, whether in Buffalo, Binghamton, Rochester, the Hudson Valley or its original home in Syracuse, would agree that the memories, and competition, were more than worth all of the hassles.

No one knows at this point whether the Empire State Games can float for keeps this time around. Getting it out of government hands, and putting the onus on the ESSF, takes away one layer of red tape, but raising money won't be easy.

But the idea that the ESG could rise again is something that gives us another thing to look forward to each summer. More information can be found here.


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