The summer Empire State Games, canceled for the past two years after the state withdrew funding, will resume next summer in Rochester with one or more sports potentially eliminated and several added.
Scott Bell, chief operating officer of the Empire State Sports Foundation (ESSF), a Rochester-based not-for-profit corporation that assumed control of the Games via a 10-year license with the state, said Wednesday that he would meet with regional directors and ESG sports chairmen this month to discuss what sports will be included.
“We’ll look at it from a sheer financial and operational standpoint,” he said.
But while declining to identify potential chopping-block sports, he said any cuts would be “very minor.”
With an operational budget of about $1.5 million — the bulk anticipated to come from corporations, other private sources and ticket and merchandise sales — beach volleyball, open lacrosse, fitness challenge and men’s slow-pitch softball are scheduled to be added.
However, in a cost-savings move, only scholastic athletes will be housed and fed on college campuses. Previously, open athletes also were accommodated.
In a significant format revamp, Masters sports will merge into open events and some open sports will become non-tryout.
Those trying out will pay a fee — likely $15. And all athletes will be charged about $30 to participate.
The mid-Hudson Valley (Poughkeepsie area), which hosted the Games in 2005 and had been slated to host in 2009 before debate over state-planned institution of much higher athlete fees scuttled them, has been given the right of first-refusal for hosting in 2014.
But Charlie North, chairman of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce and the region’s point man for dealing with the ESSF, was non-committal Wednesday.
North, who previously expressed worry the less-than-hardy economy could make it difficult for the region to raise a $150,000 host-area contribution the ESSF is requiring, said he would not approach businesses for funding until after meeting in person with ESSF members.
“This is a private organization doing it. I’m not saying we’re not interested but I’ve got to get a good feel of what’s going on,” North said, describing the ESG as a “big undertaking” — one now being performed by a group with no “track record.”
Bell, who prior to his ESSF job directed sales and marketing for the Monroe County Sports Commission, said he’d meet with North in a couple of weeks.
Regardless of the location and with about 30 sports offered, Bell anticipates high participation numbers. When run by the state, the summer Games, which began in 1978, attracted about 6,000 athletes annually.
Sharon Sarsen, Lakeland High varsity field hockey and girls lacrosse coach, who has coached the Hudson Valley Scholastic field hockey squad for 20-plus years, expressed concern that scholastic lacrosse participation could drop due to the proliferation of summer club programs during the Games’ absence.
But Sarsen, whose squad has won the last five ESG field hockey golds, believes athletes in most sports will return. Characterizing the ESGs as being “really well-known nationally,” she said, with intense lead-up practices, high-level competition and college scouts watching, the Games are more valuable to athletes than expensive tournaments and camps many now attend.
“It was just a great opportunity to compete, grow and develop skills,” said Sarsen, who plans to coach again. “It was a great opportunity for kids to get seen (by) colleges and get more college-ready. The skill level just took off.”