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Count on the 2010 Games being in Buffalo

I talked with Empire State Games director Fred Smith on Wednesday about the future of the Games.

I had the same doubts anyone has had since the 2009 Games were canceled, even after listening to the positive talk between him and Ralph Galanti's Local Organizing Committee of about 30 people meet at Chef's Restaurant in downtown Buffalo.

Smith has full confidence the Games will be here.

But who's going to pay? How can you be sure the Games will return?

He answered those questions as well as one could, with the state working on generating other revenue through sponsorship dollars (and assigning someone to generate them), very nominal fees for participants and assurances from his boss that the Games will be included - in some form - in the 2010 state budget.

But the most telling portion of the conversation with Smith -- who has run the Games for 14 years -- went like this:

"I'm at the stage of my career that unless I was darn sure, I wouldn't be here. I honestly wouldn't.

"My wife retired a couple of years ago. She says, 'Fred, what are you doing?'

"I said, 'I've got Games to run.'

"She said, 'Are you sure?'

" 'Yes, I'm sure. Honey, I'm working another year -- at least.' "

Smith is one of the best people I've come across in covering sports. He is the rare leader who gets things done, gets his hands dirty, and doesn't seek out credit. Imagine that -- someone who is the leader of something state-run out of Albany who isn't a hey-look-what-I-did character.

So if Smith says he'll be here in the summer, I believe him.

The cancellation of the 2009 Games is still stomach-turning. But it seems that the plans for the 2010 Games are solid -- the fees are just $10 per participant, a far cry from the ungodly amount that was in place for the '09 Games, and the state -- not just the host region -- is actively pursuing sponsorships to help cover costs.

The Games have always been an outstanding event. They come back from the dead next summer in Buffalo -- and Western New Yorkers will have a lot to do with how they are remembered. It's time to get to work.

---Keith McShea

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