Moving games to Frostburg proved costly

January 14, 1991|By Bill Glauberand Patricia Meisol | Bill Glauberand Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondents

FROSTBURG -- In the beginning, the Maryland State Games were a low-cost, all-volunteer effort, a summer highlight for amateur athletes who commuted easily to the University of Maryland's College Park or Baltimore County campuses.

All that changed when the games moved to Frostburg State University in Western Maryland last summer. The Frostburg experience illustrates yet more problems with the Maryland State Games Foundation, now disbanded and under investigation, and with two of its chief state organizers already fired.

Once the games moved to Frostburg, they attracted fewer participants, they cost more public dollars than ever before, and they required hundreds more work hours by state employees. And in a bid to keep the games another five years, Frostburg State spent tens of thousands of dollars for overtime, equipment and entertainment for the athletes. In all, Frostburg State spent $130,040 on the 1990 games, including $65,304 for food, $33,230 for lodging and $22,500 for overtime from a university reserve account generated by dorm fees, among other sources.

Last November, as auditors began inspecting the State Games Foundation's books, the university belatedly sent the foundation bill for the room and board. Frostburg State officials said the delay in billing had been an oversight. But since Frostburg State had no contract spelling out the arrangement, auditors say the bill may never be paid.

In contrast, previous state university host sites had billed the State Games for costs incurred, including salaries for police and maintenance workers. For the 1989 games, which attracted the most athletes ever -- more than 3,000 -- the University of Maryland Baltimore County charged $28,313 for labor, services, food and dorm space.

Ultimately, Frostburg's top administrators and faculty became heavily involved in the day-to-day operation of the games, which had been run exclusively by volunteers and games officials. They spent seven months arranging logistics, from a Saturday night fried chicken dinner for athletes, to building stands for the officials, to lining athletic fields and acquiring truckloads of extra bunk beds from the Maryland National Guard, Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

"Our biggest investment was our time and effort," said Harold J. Cordts, co-chairman of the Frostburg State committee.

For its part, the State Games Foundation collected the $15 registration fee from athletes and paid for uniforms, fireworks and music. And, for the first time, the foundation hired a public relations firm to drum up support, at a cost of $45,000.

What did the Frostburg organizers get for their money?

Participation declined to fewer than 2,600 athletes, and the events, located more than 150 miles from Baltimore, drew fewer spectators.

Frostburg State received three days of unprecedented exposure cable television.

"The Maryland State Games [was] excellent public service by the university," said FSU President Herb F. Reinhard Jr., who has announced his resignation, effective next week. "It brought a tremendous number of people tothe campus and brought publicity to Frostburg State."

As it turned out, Frostburg State officials -- not the State Games Foundation -- did the bulk of the work to organize the foundation's main event, the July 1990 amateur athletic competitions.

By tapping friends at Frostburg to perform its primary function, the virtually bankrupt foundation was able to divert its attention -- and federal drug program money -- to funding an international table tennis event in Baltimore and to promoting a state bid to attract the U.S. Olympic Festival.

"People up here are wondering how we got the games in the first place, let alone for five years," said one Frostburg State coach last week.

Here's how it seems to have worked.

An alumnus, James E. Narron, matched up with Dr. Reinhard, a school president who seemed eager for publicity, engineered the move of the State Games from the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Doing this helped transform a once inexpensive, all-volunteer weekend athletic competition into an expensive, elaborate, publicly funded event.

Frostburg's ability to attract the games is the ultimate tale of patronage by the now-fired head of the Maryland State Games Foundation. Mr. Narron, FSU Class of 1978, found a willing partner in FSU's sports-loving, promotion-minded president. In return for the games, FSU officials provided major concessions at taxpayer expense.

Mr. Narron at first was reluctant to move the games so far from Baltimore, but he was courted by Dr. Reinhard beginning in 1987. The games arrived at Frostburg in July 1990. In September, in a move that took the amateur sports community by surprise, the two men announced that the games would remain at Frostburg for the next five years. In the process, the athletic competition was to expand to a week from three days and require more university financial concessions.

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