Over the years, numerous athletes got their start competing at the Empire State Games. Boxer Mike Tyson and former Duke basketball standout Christian Laettner both participated in the summer games, while figure skater Sarah Hughes shined during the winter games.
Vermontville native and Nordic combined Olympic champion Bill Demong took gold at several Empire State Games events as a youngster. Demong, who wraps up training in Park City, Utah this week before heading to some races in Norway, describes the games as a sort of mini-Olympics.
"I know that growing up as a kid it was a neat event, because it was designed to support everything from local and regional to elite level athletes," he said. "I remember winning Empire States Games when I was 13 on the 40-meter jump. That was sort of my penultimate achievement at that point. With the uniforming, the torch lighting, and the festival atmosphere - it's like a mini-Olympics."
State Senator Betty Little told WNBZ Wednesday that canceling the Empire State Games was a hasty decision. She says the state should have sought local input and considered reaching out to corporate and private sponsors.
"Seek their advice before announcing the games won't happen and see what creative ideas are out there to mitigate the loss of funding," Little said.
North Country Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward decried the fact that Gov. David Paterson has made several budget cuts this year without weighing the potential impacts on regional economies.
But while Sayward agrees that the games are well-liked and provide a boost to the tourism economy, she says New York can no longer foot the bill for such events.
"Government just can't continue to fund everything we've funded in the past," she said. "What we need to do - and I've heard this loud and clear from our incoming governor - is create partnerships with the private sector to enable fine programs like the Empire State Games to continue."