Anthony Mills and Ken Rechnitzer are doing their part to keep the spirit of statewide amateur competition in New York alive.
Mills and Rechnitzer are the organizers of the Liberty Games, a three-day multi-sport competition set to be held in and around Schenectady July 19-21.
In its second year, the Liberty Games offers several sports that were part of the now-defunct Empire State Games – basketball, boxing, judo, softball and track and field. But it also offers sports such as BMX racing, flag football and pickleball, which is a cross between tennis, ping pong and racquetball.
“The racquet has a solid surface like a ping pong paddle, the games are played inside the service boxes of a tennis court and you use a wiffle ball instead of a fuzzy (tennis) ball,” said Mills.
The Liberty Games also offers a mixed martial arts competition, but not in the version seen in UFC bouts.
“This is a youth event, and what we’re doing is breaking it down to all the different disciplines and contesting each one separately,” said Rechnitzer. “So for instance, you’ll have a kickboxing competition, and then you’ll have a grapping competition.”
By offering sports such as mixed martial arts, pickleball and BMX racing, Mills and Rechnitzer – who also run the Empire State Sports Council – are hoping to attract a wider array of athletes than the Empire State Games, which were last contested in 2010.
“A lot of it stems from the sports council itself,” said Mills. “One of the things we wanted to do was pick sports that get people out of the house.”
“It’s as much about fitness and education as it is about holding events,” added Rechnitzer.
Last year’s inaugural Liberty Games featured only seven sports and received little in the way of promotion. Yet Mills estimated that 1,000 athletes from around New York competed last year, and he said he expects more to come to this year’s games, which will feature 16 sports.
“In terms of applications, we are ahead of where we were last year at this time,” said Mills.
In the future, Rechnitzer said the goal is to offer more than 40 types of sports. Already, he and Mills are looking to add wrestling, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, volleyball and bowling in the next two years.
“Other statewide games across the country have as many as 48 different sports,” said Rechnitzer. “Our goal is to get to that point over the next five years.”
Liberty Games competitors will represent the same six regions that New York was divided into by the Empire State Games – Adirondack, Central, Western, Hudson Valley, Long Island and New York City. There will also be an opening festival Thursday, July 18, at Schenectady High School featuring a barbecue and a performance by Chelsea Cavanaugh.
“It’s an opportunity for all of the athletes and their families to get together and share stories,” said Mills.
Athletes do have to pay their way to compete at the Liberty Games, which is a difference from the state-funded Empire State Games. But Rechnitzer said families are willing to make that commitment.
“There is an enormous amount of money parents spend on their kids’ sports anyway,” said Rechnitzer. “They think nothing of dropping several hundred dollars for a weekend tournament.”
Schenectady High School will host several Liberty Games events including basketball, pickleball and track and field. Mekeel Christian Academy in Scotia is another site, as is Tri City BMX in Rotterdam, River Road Park in Niskayuna and Westland Hills in Albany.
As more sports are added, Mills and Rechnitzer said they are hoping to expand to more venues around the area.
“The goal is to have the games contested in the Capital-Saratoga region every year,” said Mills.
For information, visit the Liberty Games website at essportscouncil.org.