October 20, 2021

Cortland sports Empire State Senior Games

Multimedia intern Dan Lyon checked in with the executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council, Machell Phelps, to get a rundown on how the Empire State Senior Games have become a mainstay for the region.

The athletes may be old(er), but they aren’t slowing down.

Cortland has played host to the Empire State Senior Games for 34 of their 36 years, drawing 1,300 athletes over 50 to compete in 18 showcases of elderly athleticism and skill.

“When we first took over, there was a little over 1,000 people,” said Cortland Regional Sports Council Executive Director Machell Phelps, which took over operation of the games in 2011. “Each year, it’s increased to this year it’s about 1,300 people, which is a great year for us.”

The Senior Games’ 18 events help the athletes who place in the top spots for each age group qualify for the National Senior Games every two years. Medalists this year can compete in June 2019 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Not all the events are competitive, however. Seniors can also play cards, shuffleboard and horseshoes.

Ward King, 67, of Spring House, Pennsylvania, and his wife Rita ran the 5K race Thursday morning. The first-year competitors said they were impressed with the games and happy with the city hosting them. Although they’ve been preoccupied with the competition — the couple also run the 10K — they hope to explore a bit.

And that’s the other side of the games. A day visitor to Cortland typically spends about $89, the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau has estimated. Families staying overnight can expect to spend $289 a day. With 1,100 athletes, many bringing their families and staying in hotels, that adds up — hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourism revenue.

Once they get exploring.

“So far we’ve been busy, we’ll never get it all done,” King said. “But I think we’ll be back next year.”