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Empire State Championship gives track athletes a new summer meet

Last weekend should have been when thousands of competitors from across New York convened in Poughkeepsie for the Empire State Games.

But a poor economy and subsequent budget cuts led to the suspension of the annual Olympic-style event.

To help fill the void, track-and-field athletes traveled to Queensbury for the first annual Empire State Liberty Tour Championship a two-day meet with an age range from elementary school students to retirees.

We were thrilled to hear about this," said Mary Collins-Finn of Menands, a regular masters division competitor at the Empire State Games. "I didn't hear about it early on [this year]. I think I fell off [the Liberty Tour's] e-mail list because I only heard about it by chance, but once I did, I signed right up."

"I like to put my kids in the Empire [State Games] because it's about the state, but this is good," said Thomas Francis, president of the Zodiacs Track Foundation from the Bronx.

Like the Liberty Tour " a summer-long series of five regional track meets " the Empire State Championship is the brainchild of Ballston Lake resident Anthony Mills.

"It was more of a natural process for us," said Mills. "We were on our way to establishing a statewide meet when the Empire State Games were canceled [last winter]."

The object of Mills' meet was to give track athletes of all ages a chance to compete against the best in the state.

"We're offering this to people in all age ranges from the very young to older athletes," said Mills. "The Empire State Games ... didn't offer anything for the youth levels."

The establishment of the meet couldn't have come at a better time for masters division athletes such as Collins-Finn, since that division was cut from this year's Empire State Games before the whole five-day, multi-sport event was canceled when the state cut its funding.

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