By KEN McMILLAN
The Empire State Games have yet to re-light the flame for its return in 2013 but there’s already talk about the new Games making a return to the Mid-Hudson Valley in 2014.
“We recognize Hudson Valley lost the opportunity in 2009, and felt it was only fair that we give them the first shot,’’ said Scott Bell, the chief operating officer for the Empire State Sports Foundation, the non-profit group that is restoring the summer edition of the Games next year.
Bell has reached out to Charlie North, the president of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, who played a big role in bringing the Games to Poughkeepsie, New Paltz and Newburgh in 2005 and 2009 – the former event was a critical success and the latter was cancelled due to state budget cutbacks.
Bell, who played a similar role to North’s when Rochester hosted in the past, said he has sent a local organizing committee questionnaire and would expect its return within 30 days. The form would answer questions about the availability of venues, college dorm space and hotel rooms, but Bell said since the Mid-Hudson Valley was already awarded the Games twice previously this would practically be a mere formality. Bell would like to make a decision on the 2014 host by Nov. 1.
Frank Intervallo, the longtime Hudson Valley regional director, is excited at the prospect.
“It speaks highly to the experience we had in 2005,’’ Intervallo said, “and the faith they have in us to bring the Games back up to where they should be.’’
Marist athletic director Tim Murray said he hasn’t heard from anyone from the Foundation but he is eager to listen.
“Absolutely, I would be more than willing to talk about it for sure,’’ Murray said. “Clearly, if the county (Dutchess County) was in a position, and hopefully they will be, to involve themselves as they did the last time … speaking for the athletics department, we would be very excited about that opportunity.’’
Marist and Vassar colleges in Poughkeepsie, SUNY New Paltz and Mount Saint Mary in Newburgh hosted many of the athletic venues in 2005. There are 30 athletic events planned for 2013.
Two weeks ago Murray was speaking with a parent that was visiting Marist and one of his older children had participated in the 2005 Games.
“He was commenting on what a terrific job we did and the opening ceremonies on campus,’’ Murray said. “Obviously we had an impact on a lot of kids’ experience. I think we can do that again.’’
The Empire State Sports Foundation, a non-profit group, will run the 2013 Rochester Games following the state’s decision to disband the Empire State Games office – part of the larger state parks department – in 2011. Former Games director Fred Smith is serving as an advisor to the Foundation and several former Games staff members have been hired.
Binghamton has expressed an interest to host in 2015, and local groups in Buffalo and Syracuse would also support a return to their cities, Bell said. Making a selection for 2014 and the two years following is critical.
“It shows sustainability,’’ Bell said. “You look at sponsors and the fans and everyone is wondering where we are going next. Our goal is to have 2014, 2015 and 2016 locked down as quickly as possible because it shows sustainability and the fact we’re not ‘one and done.’’’
Intervallo shed some additional light on financial plans, which includes a tryout registration fee in the range of $35-45, a potential bus deposit fee and the decision not to house “open” division athletes. Individual and corporate fundraising will be crucial, and scholarship plans will be made available to sponsor athletes who may not be able to afford the costs.
“The Games have been extremely popular throughout their history,’’ Intervallo said. “At the time they were stopped a lot of the comments were, ‘Great program, but we can’t afford it with taxpayer dollars. We’d like to see people do it privately.’ Here’s where people put their money where their mouth is.’’
The Foundation will start a re-branding campaign in the fall. One plan calls for the creation of a three-part documentary series, to be shown at many elementary schools, featuring past athletes (“I played”), current tryout participants (“I am playing”) and younger children (“I will play”).