February 1, 2011


Senior Games’ return celebrated

SeniorBob Ellis/staff photographer
Harold White watches the ball travel off the bat of Gary Contri during the 2008 Senior Games 65 and over softball championship game at Meldrim Field.

Staff Reporter

When he discovered the state was canceling the Empire State Senior Games in November, Cortland resident Tim Phillips wrote a letter asking his legislators to reconsider.
“It’s a great event for Cortland,” said Phillips, 51, a two-time gold medal winner in the three-on-three basketball tournament. “The games produce a lot of economic activity and everybody enjoys it. I think it goes along with the Jets camp in bringing some visibility to Cortland.”
While the state did not reinstate the Senior Games, two local organizations — the Cortland Regional Sports Council and the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau — said last week they are working with another group to organize the event.
Many local senior athletes like Phillips rejoiced upon hearing the news last week.
Marathon resident and avid softball player Harold White said he always hoped the games would be reinstated.
The 70-year-old said he liked the event because it allows him to compare his softball team with teams from around the state.
“I think it’s great that they’re bringing it back. I hope the businesses in Cortland support it,” White said.
The games are slated to be staged from June 7 through 12 and will remain an annual event.
Machell Phelps, the sports council’s executive director, said the organizers are searching for corporate sponsors or grant money for the event. She said they will need to raise between $20,000 and $30,000 to bring the games back.
The Senior Games is an athletic competition for people age 50 and older. The 24 sports include golf, track and field, badminton, pickleball, volleyball, badminton and swimming.
The total cost of the games is about $100,000, with $50,000 coming from participants’ fees.
The two local groups will be working with Susan Maxwell and John Doherty, who organized the event in previous years. Maxwell and Doherty lost their jobs in December, when the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was dissolved.
Doherty said one of the biggest priorities for event organizers will be to let the athletes know the event has been reinstated.
Doherty said he felt the games should be played because the athletes pay for their own registration, meals, travel and housing costs. Local volunteers work at many of the athletic events.
He said he was not sure what his role would be in the organization process, but said hoped he could contribute.
“Anything I can do to help out, I want to do,” Doherty said.
The Empire State Senior Games began at SUNY Cortland in 1983, moved to Syracuse in 1996, then returned to Cortland in 2001 after athletes petitioned to move it back.
For many local athletes, the Senior Games provides added motivation to stay fit and a way to check their athletic ability against their peers.
The event is also a national qualifier in some sports such as golf and track and field.
“You like to compare yourself with people in your age category and see how you stack up,” White said. “There’s also a lot of camaraderie that comes from playing team sports and meeting new people that like the same things you do.”
John Busch has earned dozens of medals in the Senior Games, throwing the discus, shot put and playing pickleball. Busch, 62, said he’s throwing the discus farther than he did in his teenage and college years.
Busch said he was optimistic the local groups could put on an event that was just as good or better than the state-run Senior Games.
As a longtime Cortland resident, he said the games have always been a valuable asset for the region.
“I think as a city, with the Jets camp and the Senior Games, we have some major attractions,” Busch said. “If we do this right, it’ll be a real boon to the city.”
Suzanne Austin, of Homer, has been piling up medals in swimming events in the games for the last five years.
Two years ago, she won seven gold medals and last year she won three gold, two silver and one bronze medal.
She said she was looking forward to racking up some more medals in June.
“I really like that it’s local,” said Austin, 55. “I think it’s awesome that it’s coming back.”

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