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The 'Golden Snowball' is rightfully Buffalo's. So why does Syracuse have it?

Imagine if the Buffalo Bills won the Super Bowl, or the Buffalo Sabres won the Stanley Cup, but we never got to take our victory laps with the trophies because the losers kept them.

Even worse, imagine if that happened and the mayor said he not only didn't care but that he had no interest in getting the trophy.

That, according to some local weather buffs, is what it's like to see the Golden Snowball stay in Syracuse this past year.

This trophy, for the uninitiated, honors the upstate New York city that receives the most snowfall each winter. Buffalo last year won the title for the first time since 2002, narrowly edging out perennial champion Syracuse.

But the shimmering trophy remains on display in Syracuse City Hall.

Why? Did the winter end on a controversial snowfall? Was it a disputed total, the weather version of "No Goal?"

Nothing like that. It turns out Mayor Byron Brown is not interested in a trophy that recognizes the city where the most snow happened to fall.

"That's no competition to me, and that's nothing really to be celebrated," Brown said.

This frustrates the American Meteorological Society's local chapter, which wants the trophy brought to its rightful home and doesn't understand City Hall's indifference to the contest.

"The snowball is in Buffalo's court," said Stephen Vermette, a society member and professor of geography at SUNY Buffalo State, "and they need to respond."

The Golden Snowball dates to the late 1970s, when several major storms battered Buffalo. Peter Chaston, then a National Weather Service meteorologist in Rochester, saw our impressive snowfall totals and thought it would be fun to make a trophy to give to the upstate city that gets the most snow each winter.

Chaston took an old Little League trophy and stuck a foam ball, spray-painted gold, on top. As Buffalo News columnist Sean Kirst reported in 2016, the competition died out after a few years but was revived in the early 2000s by Pat DeCoursey.

Golden Snowball is symbol of upstate winters. So where is it?

By then, the original trophy was gone. But a Syracuse trophy shop owner, Roseanne Anthony, designed a new Golden Snowball and donated it to Syracuse's mayor at the time.

It remains on display in City Hall in Syracuse, which has a Harlem Globetrotters-esque dynasty going in the Golden Snowball chase over the years.

Buffalo and the other cities typically play the Washington Generals also-ran role in the contest. But in the winter of 2018-19, Buffalo came out on top, with just under 119 inches compared with 115 inches for Syracuse, as of May 1.

Buffalo also won the Golden Snow Globe last winter as the snowiest city of 100,000 or more people in the country.

"It was a banner year for us," Vermette said.

Weather aficionados cheered the victory and looked forward to getting their hands on the Golden Snowball itself. But as the seasons shifted from summer to fall and now to winter, members of the meteorological society here feared they were losing their chance to celebrate the region's rare win.

Vermette said a member of the society reached out to the mayor's offices in Syracuse and Buffalo, but didn't get anywhere. Out of frustration, he and society members Jack Kanack and Charley Bowman wrote a letter to the editor of The Buffalo News, published last month, to publicize their concerns.

"I just wanted people to know for the record that things got messed up and we were disappointed," Vermette said.

Vermette said some chapter members talked about creating their own version of the trophy to display here, but enthusiasm for that idea melted like a supermarket snow mountain in May. He initially said it's too late to take the trophy now, but then halfheartedly said the society would accept it – "I guess."

Syracuse did reach out to Buffalo to offer to pass along the trophy.

"They were not interested," said Ruthnie Angrand, a spokeswoman for Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. (For purposes of full disclosure, the city planner who contacted Buffalo officials on Walsh's behalf, Liam Kirst, is the son of News columnist Sean Kirst.)

Angrand said Syracuse views the contest as a way to champion a natural upstate resource – winter.

Brown isn't having it. Now in his fourth term as Buffalo's mayor, Brown told The News he had never heard of the Golden Snowball until Walsh took office in 2018.

"I didn't know it was a thing," he said.

Brown said instead of celebrating who gets the most snow, the upstate cities should compete over who is most resilient in responding to a storm. He said he would like to find a way to measure acts of kindness – such as helping to push a neighbor's car out of a snowbank – or how quickly plows can clear city streets.

"Simply to be trading a trophy back and forth that we have nothing to do with – Mother Nature decides who gets the most snowfall – my response was I wasn't really interested in that," said Brown.

So, no, Brown won't be meeting Walsh at a Thruway rest stop halfway between here and Syracuse for a formal ceremony.

"As busy as I am, in the second-largest city in New York State, that really wouldn't be how I want to spend my time – driving to pick up the Golden Snowball trophy," said Brown, laughing. He did say city officials wouldn't reject the trophy if someone wanted to bring it around to City Hall.

Speaking one day before the Bills' playoff game against the Houston Texans, though, Brown had his sights set on another prize.

"The only trophy I'm interested in right now is the Super Bowl trophy," he said.

Like the Golden Snowball, that one also is not headed here anytime soon.

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