June 14, 2011
Senior Games overcomes setbacks
Organizers say effort to keep games going after state cuts big success
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bill Schlernitzauer of Sherberne plays in the men’s doubles pingpong tournament Saturday at the Empire State Senior Games at the SUNY Cortland campus.
Machell Phelps, Jim Dempsey and other local officials exhaled Monday after successfully reviving the Empire State Senior Games.
The officials said the event, which started last Tuesday and concluded Sunday, went well and that they are excited to keep the games in Cortland for years to come.
“I really felt that if we had not (stepped in), the games would have gone to a different community,” said Phelps, executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council. “Once you lose something like that, it’s hard to get it back.”
Phelps said the games are valuable to the community, providing both notoriety and business for Cortland.
Due to budget cuts, the state canceled the Senior Games in November when the division of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that organized the games was dissolved.
In February, the Cortland Regional Sports Council and the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau — which Dempsey leads as executive director — announced they were working to save the event.
More than 1,100 athletes participated in the games this year, down from last year’s 1,642 athletes. Of the 1,100 athletes, about one-third came from the New York City area, said Dempsey.
He said all local hotels were booked this weekend. He said he had to send some visitors to Ithaca for hotel rooms.
The state high school girls lacrosse semifinals and finals at SUNY Cortland also contributed to the increased hotel occupancy over the weekend, he said.
Dempsey projected athletes at the Senior Games would account for $220,000 in hotel business, $17,000 in sales tax and $10,000 in occupancy tax.
Phelps said she was still retrieving information to calculate the local economic impact of this year’s games.
Phelps did not have an exact figure but estimated the games cost more than $100,000. She said some of that would be covered by participants’ fees and the rest would be covered by the sports council and convention and visitors bureau budgets.
In 60 days, Phelps, Dempsey and other local officials planned an event that usually takes more than eight months to organize.
They negotiated a contract with the state to keep the games in Cortland for two years; they worked with SUNY Cortland to use the college’s athletic fields; they reached out to more than a thousand athletes to let them know the games were back on.
“It was better than we expected,” Phelps said. “I think we achieved what we were setting out to do.”
Phelps said the visitors bureau and sports council plan to keep the games in Cortland. She said a committee of local officials will begin working on the 2012 Senior Games in September.
The committee will work to find sponsors to support the event. There were no sponsors this year, Phelps said.
Phelps said the athletes gave a lot of positive feedback and helpful criticism from this year’s games. She said some athletes asked for more recreation activities during their down time while others wanted buses to local restaurants and stores.
SUNY Cortland hosted the Empire State Senior Games from 1983 until 1995. The event moved to Syracuse from 1996 until 2000, returning to Cortland in 2001 after athletes petitioned to move it back.
Phelps said she expected next year to be even better than this year, with experience and more time to plan. She said more athletes will come next year, as it is a qualifying event for the Summer National Senior Games.
“Machell and I hope to make this event bigger and better as we move into the future,” Dempsey said.
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