The Empire State Games slated for next summer in Rochester have been canceled because of the state's budget crisis, and the entire program might find it difficult to make another comeback without sustained private funding.
The news of the cancellation was announced to regional directors in a conference call on Tuesday with officials of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which oversees the games.
"We've been told the games have been canceled," said Louis Vazquez, ESG regional director for New York City. "All of them - winter, summer, senior games and the games for the physically challenged. All of us were in quite a bit of shock."
The Olympic-style amateur athletic contests were started in 1978 by former New York Gov. Hugh Carey. The games feature six competing regions, and athletes within each region are broken down into three separate divisions by age: scholastic, open and masters. Athletes compete in more than two dozen sports, including basketball, baseball, cycling, swimming and volleyball, and track and field.
The state made no formal announcement Wednesday but the ESG website had already been taken down. Parks department officials referred all queries to the state Division of Budget.
Budget spokesman Erik Kriss said the state was still working out the details of Gov. David Paterson's goal to cut the state payroll by $250 million. Kriss said how specific programs will be affected won't be known until final layoffs are announced next month.
The summer games were suspended in 2009 for one year because of the state's dire financial situation. The governor said there wasn't any room in the $131 billion state budget to continue funding them.
"It's sad. We had to do this two years ago, and it's sad that we're going to have to do this now," Paterson said Wednesday. "I won't be able to reverse that. Obviously, if revenues come in, the next governor can make a decision about the summer games, but I wouldn't expect that there'd be a reversal."
The games resumed again last summer in Buffalo after First Niagara Financial Group donated $500,000.
Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks said the county will try to salvage the 2011 games. She plans to meet in the coming weeks with the local organizing committee "to discuss our options and determine whether we can move forward and pursue private and corporate sponsorship opportunities."
According to the Monroe County Sports Commission, the county committed $200,000 for the games and the state was to commit $1.2 million to $1.3 million.
The Poughkeepsie Journal published portions of a letter to ESG athletes from Winter Games administrator Lisa Del Signore on its website Tuesday night.
"It is with great regret and sadness that I must inform you of the cancellation of the 2011 Empire State Games programs," Del Signore wrote. "We have been informed that there will be no appropriation for any of the Empire State Games programs in the coming year, and two of our five staff members have been laid off effective the end of the year. The other three have been reassigned within the State Parks agency. With no money and no staff, we have no program."
Central Region director Ken McInerney told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, "They're talking about eliminating positions in state parks and reassigning people. If they're dismantling the state staff and sending them elsewhere, I think the chances of it coming back at all are pretty remote. The fact that they took down the website says an awful lot."