Cold start for the Empire State Games

It may be an uphill climb, but it is well worth the effort. We applaud the consortium of Adirondack municipalities and agencies that has set out to save the Empire State Winter Games.

Just 24 hours after they found out that New York State had pulled the plug on financing the games next year, they decided to run the winter games on their own.

A village with fewer than 3,000 residents, Lake Placid has hosted two Olympics and 30 Empire State Winter Games.

“That’s one of the things that’s great about Lake Placid,” said Jon Lundin, spokesman for the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which was created by the state to manage the facilities used in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. “When we see an opportunity, we’re ready to act. It’s an events oriented and driven town. Sports are a large part of the culture here.”

Lake Placid’s mayor, Craig Randall, compared last week’s decision to the village’s decision to pursue the 1932 Olympic Games during the Great Depression.

We’re now in the Great Recession, and, according to James McKenna, president of the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, the annual Empire State Winter Games bring over a million dollars in business to the Adirondacks.

About 1,200 athletes, their families and fans, and volunteers who like to help with the games stay in area motels, eat in local restaurants, and shop in Adirondack stores.

“We’ve got a history of saying we’re going to do, and we do; it goes back to the 1932 Olympics,” said McKenna. He also said, “We’re going to keep this going this next year and as many years as we have to. This is the home of the Empire State Winter Games.”

The new organizers — which, in addition to the village of Lake Placid, the Lake Placid CVB, and ORDA, also include the town of North Elba, where the village is located, and the town of Wilmington, where Whiteface is located — will meet on Monday with the state staff that had been charged with organizing the games before their jobs were eliminated.

In 2010, McKenna said, the state spent over $300,000 on the winter games, and it was expected to spend about half that in 2011. The local effort, he said, will count on some of the same revenue streams that the state did — registration fees, tickets, and merchandise sales.

The group is also going to depend heavily on volunteers and seek corporate and private sponsorship. Assistance will come, too, from sports organizations for Nordic skiing, alpine skiing, luge, bobsled, and speed skating, McKenna said.

“We’re encouraging people to contact us,” he said. Anyone who is interested can e-mail Kathy Pfohl at kpfohl@lakeplacid.com.

Like so much else in a failing economy, cutbacks lead to further recession. Lake Placid’s push to keep a good thing going will have a positive ripple effect on the region. We salute the new organizers.

We were particularly pleased with the answer McKenna gave when we asked him if athletes would be expected to pay in order to compete. “Not beyond the registration fees of $10 to $25,” he said.

The 2009 summer games were cancelled when the state, in cutting funds, proposed athletes pay hundreds of dollars to compete. The local organizing committee for the Hudson Valley where the games were to have been held, refused; the committee told the state there was an overwhelming feeling that the participation fee violated the spirit of the games. We agree wholeheartedly. The best athletes should be able to compete, regardless of their ability to pay. Any victory based on paid participation would be hollow. No athlete wants to win that way.

The games are about more than boosting business, and even about more than winning. Darwin Roosa, an Altamont biathlete who has won many, many medals at the winter games over the years, told us last week, “It’s not the lure of the medals that’s important. It’s the challenge and learning to meet the challenge. The whole season leads us to the Empire States Games. The games are the finale.”

Roosa is the president of the New York State Ski Racing Association – Nordic, which, along with other sports groups, has offered to help support the games. He pointed out that many of the athletes who had competed in the Empire State Games had gone on to compete on national teams and in the Olympics.

But, even for the hundreds of athletes that are not that exceptional, the competition is important. “Boys and girls learn how to set goals and train to reach them,” he said.

“Obesity is an issue all across our country,” said McKenna. It’s good for kids to be active and involved in sports.

Randy Preston, who has been the supervisor of Wilmington for three years, said it has been his mission to get kids who live in the shadow of Whiteface skiing on the world-famous mountain.

“We’ve raised funds so that Wilmington youth can ski and get rental equipment for free,” he said. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

That kind of can-do attitude may carry the day for the winter games. We hope it does.

“We’re energized, we’re enthusiastic,” said Lundin. “There’s a buzz. Now, we’ve just got to put things in order.

“Circle the dates,” he said. They are Feb. 25 to 28. “It’s going to happen,” said Lundin.

“We’re going to pull this off,” agreed Preston.

We’ll take him at his word. And we’ll be there to cover the competitors — the skiers and skaters, the snowshoers and orienteerers.

“This state is like no other,” said Governor Hugh L. Carey, who founded the games, addressing the athletes years ago. “We started the Empire State Games to give people hope for tomorrow.”

In tough times more than flush times, as we’ve written before, we need something to cheer for and to believe in. We need the hope that heroes bring — home-grown heroes, heroes from our Empire State.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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