February’s deep snows and cold temperatures have provided opportunities for cross-country skiing and ice skating.
But Anthony Mills is looking forward to July, and sports such as lacrosse, road racing and flag football.
Mills, executive director of the Empire State Sports Council, on Monday announced the council’s Liberty Games will be held July 12-20 at locations throughout the Capital Region. This summer will mark the third consecutive year the council has organized the games; the Liberty brand succeeds New York’s Empire State Games, a summer sports carnival eliminated by state budget cuts in the fall of 2010.
“This year, we’re probably more prepared than we ever have been to be able to do what we’re doing,” said Mills, whose Clifton Park-based council is a non-profit organization. “We’ve added quite a few new sports. Lacrosse is one of the new ones we’ve added this year and swimming will be coming in for the first time. We felt we wanted to get the grass roots aspect of this developed and built first before we launched it because it would have been easy to just be put in the shadow of the previous state games.”
The 34th annual Empire State Winter Games, held in several Adirondack Mountain communities and sponsored by the Hannaford supermarket chain, took place earlier this month.
Mills, speaking at a press conference at the Sports Zone sporting goods store at the Colonie Center shopping mall, said people in the sports community know about the summer competitions in the Capital Region. He’s trying to spread the word to more athletes and spectators.
“Now’s the time to make it a louder broadcast,” he said.
Thirteen sports are on the current Liberty roster, including basketball, judo, boxing, track and field and pickleball. Past locations for athletic play have included the University at Albany, Shenendehowa High School and Central Park. Corporate sponsors, among them Sports Zone, Price Chopper, Stewart’s Shops, DeNooyer Chevrolet and Tri-City BMX, are lending financial support.
Athletes will have to pay registration fees, a practice that was also in place for the 2010 Empire State Games. The Liberty Games have added some new wrinkles. Team sports, for example, do not involve all-star teams built from different regions of the state; existing basketball and volleyball teams — men and women that have played together — will represent their home areas.
“That went over really well with coaches, players and parents in particular,” Mills said. “They didn’t find themselves in situations where they thought, ‘My son or daughter is a qualified basketball player. How come they’re not playing on the Adirondack team or the western New York team?’ We thought that was one of the biggest changes, probably one of the best changes as far as the parents were concerned.”
Regional qualifiers will begin in 2015.
The games have local chairmen or chairwomen for each sport. Jason Morris, an Olympic medalist in judo in 1992 who trains athletes at his self-named judo center in Glenville, is chairing the games’ judo committee. He appreciates the opportunities the games will bring to athletes in his sport.
“There’s just not a lot of opportunities for the kids not only to compete but for the area to see what judo is,” Morris said. “It’s not in the high school, like high school wrestling gets a venue twice a week for thousands of kids. And all those kids, for example, would be interested in judo if they even knew it existed. Things like these Liberty Games for us, personally, are huge.”