The Empire State Games were revived in Buffalo in July after a one-year hiatus.
Athletes from around New York State traveled to Western New York to take part in this mini-Olympic event.
The Games began with a bang as more than 15,000 athletes and spectators crowded into UB Stadium for the opening ceremonies July 21. The ceremonies were emceed by former Buffalo Bill Steve Tasker. A slide show displayed the different sports and athletes from the regions that would appear in the Games. The evening culminated with a concert by Third Eye Blind and a spectacular fireworks display.
The four-day competition featured Open and Scholastic divisions in each sport. There also was a Masters division, for athletes who are too old to participate in the Open or Scholastic divisions, but are still on top of their game. Three local athletes from Niagara Gymnastics -- Alexis Frankowski, Jill Daddario and myself -- competed in gymnastics in the Empire State Games.
Alexis and I competed in the Open division for the Western region. The Open gymnastics team is comprised of the first seven finishers at the trials, a system similar to the Olympics' trials. The other five members of the Open team were Nicole Radon, Kaitlyn Lopez, Rachel Filipski, Miranda Roberson and Rachel Kistner from Stumpf's Gymnastics.
In the Open division, the Western team earned silver, behind the Adirondack team, with the Hudson Valley region receiving the bronze. Nicole earned a silver medal on balance beam and a bronze on the vault, with Kaitlyn claiming the vaulting silver.
"We did pretty good," said Alexis, an eighth-grader at St. Amelia School. "We had a good team and we were up against a lot of great gymnasts, so I think the silver's really good."
Jill, 15, competed in the Western Scholastic division. The Scholastic gymnastics team is comprised of the next seven finishers at the trials. The other six members of the Scholastic team included Mackenzie Donner, Ana Reyes, Michaela Stumpf, Lily Szafranski, Mary Hamilton and Stephanie Mazur, also from Stumpf's Gymnastics. The Western region again placed second to Adirondack, and the Central region claimed the bronze.
Jill, a sophomore at Sweet Home High School, earned fourth place, and also a silver medal on vault.
"It was just a really great experience," said Jill. "And it was good to make some friends, because I know all the other girls who were on my team now."
Chris Bagneschi and Anita Williams, two coaches from Niagara Gymnastics, participated in the Masters' division gymnastics. Bagneschi earned three gold medals, and Williams claimed two.
"It was really fun to compete with the girls that I coach," said Williams. "And it was awesome to share the experience with them and to cheer each other on. It was incredible how many people came to support me."
Bagneschi added, "I was proud to represent Buffalo, since the Empires were held here this year. I think that was the best part of it."
The Western region finished the Games with 59 bronze, 78 silver and 104 gold medals, the most of any region in each of the colors, and the most total medals.
The Empire State Games returned with a vengeance and are definitely a tradition that no one wants to see disappear again.
Allison Franz is a freshman at Sacred Heart Academy.