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Games enter starting gate

Empire State Games: Festival pays tribute to its creator, former Gov. Carey

News Sports Reporter
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Marcus Yam/Buffalo News
Lindsay Schlegel of Lancaster, competing in her third Games, carries the Western Region signpost Wednesday.


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Marcus Yam/Buffalo News
Grand Island diver Ian O'Rourke recites the athletes oath.


ROCHESTER - The 29th Empire State Games got started by paying tribute to the man who created them.

The Empire State Games will now officially be known as the Gov. Hugh L. Carey Empire State Games, in honor of the former governor who started the Games in 1978.

State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro made the announcement during Wednesday night's Opening Ceremonies at 2-month-old Paetec Park in downtown Rochester. Grand Island diver Ian O'Rourke and official Sharon Maconoghy of Cheektowaga unfurled a banner reading "Hugh L. Carey Empire State Games" to a standing ovation of about 6,000 athletes and an estimated 6,000 spectators.

"This state is like no other," said Carey. "Back when the state and [New York City] were in deep trouble, we had to boost morale for people. . . . It was in those days we started the Empire State Games, to give our people hope for tomorrow."

Addressing the athletes, he said: "Thank God you're here to carry on the great history of New York. You're fit for it, you're ready for it, go for it!"

Then as a last request, he had the athletes say "I love New York" in unison, echoing the campaign he also pioneered in the late 1970s. "And New York loves you," he said, "all the way through these Games and for the rest of your lives."

Carey talked of the 14 children and 24 grandchildren he raised with his late wife, Helen, and even traced his Empire State Games lineage to his grandson-in-law, Brian Hanypsiak, a native of the Town of Tonawanda. Hanypsiak, who married Carey's granddaughter Beth and is an orthopedic surgeon on Long Island, won the gold in team handball in the 1990s.

The Empire State Games were the first event of its kind, and since they began 42 other states have created their own games.

"It's such a cool event - they put on a great show," said O'Rourke from Grand Island, the reigning high school state champion in diving who is participating in his third Games and also read the athlete's oath during the ceremony. "It's very exciting and it's great competition. It sets me up to see the competition I'll see in states [in high school]. This is my last scholastic [competition against high school athletes], so I want to go for the record."

This year's Games got their official start when Brooklyn track athlete Desmond Robinson and Alyssa D'Errico, a volleyball player from the Rochester suburb of Byron, completed a multiregion torch relay around the soccer field and lit the Games torch.

Lancaster's Lindsay Schlegel, competing in her third Games in volleyball, held the red-and-blue Western signpost as she led her region into the home of the Rochester Rhinos pro soccer team.

"It's a different team every year, and that's always fun," said Schlegel, whose women's scholastic team is wearing "Land of Gold" T-shirts as they try to win their fifth straight gold medal. "The Olympic-type experience is always really nice, and it's fun to meet new people. It's nice to be part of the medal streaks and trying to keep that going."

It was the first Opening Ceremony for Clarence Center's Adam Arena, an 11-year-old gymnast.

"I like being with my friends and enjoying the experience," said Arena, who was among the tiniest athletes in the masses of older competitors gathered on the soccer turf. "I feel kind of . . . small."

Six regions (Adirondack, Central, Hudson Valley, Long Island, New York City and Western) begin competition today at 25 venues throughout Monroe County, including the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester, Monroe Community College, Nazareth College and Brockport State.

The scholastic men's volleyball team, seeking an 11th straight gold, opens against New York City at noon at Roberts Weslyan College. The men's hockey team plays Adirondack at 4 p.m. at RIT.