Scandal, conspiracy and ridicule have been synonymous with the Maryland State Games for nearly two years.
When the eighth annual games begin today, Josh Waldorf, the sports marketing specialist for Maryland's Department of Economics and Employment Development, will try to eradicate some of the damage.
"What these games are all about is people getting excited about their sports and excited to play," said Waldorf, who helped bring the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials to Baltimore last month. "The purpose of the games is to provide all Maryland citizens with a chance to play the sport or sports they love. That got lost in the scandal."
The State Games program was started by former state Health Secretary Adele A. Wilzack in 1987 to promote amateur athletics. But things went awry when then-Maryland State Games Foundation Inc. president James E. Narron and his supervisor, Deputy Health Secretary John Staubitz, were audited and found to have spent State Games money for personal use.
The auditors found that Narron's foundation spent roughly $53,000 to buy two new cars and a new sport van for Staubitz's father, $3,000 for a scholarship for Staubitz's niece, $25,000 to establish a fencing academy that immediately employed Narron's wife, and $7,166 to rent two Ocean City condominiums for the summer.
Wilzack fired Narron and Staubitz and, under increasing pressure, resigned in early February 1991. In late May of this year, Staubitz pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in office and is awaiting his sentence. Narron also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced July 28.
Last year, in the midst of the scandal, the State Games continued, albeit in an abbreviated form. Advertising and recruiting of athletes did not begin until early May, about three months later than normal.
"The best testimony to this event was last year when everyone thought the games were canceled," Waldorf said. "We still had close to 2,000 people sign up.
"Normally, applications are sent out in January, along with posters, mailings and all kinds of excitement. We did none of that and got that many people."
Facts and figures
What: Eighth Maryland State Games
When: Today through Sunday
Where: UMBC (main site). Other sites include Towson State, Brunswick Normandy Lanes, Severna Park Racquetball Club, Cedar Lane Park in Howard County, East Coast Table Tennis Training Center in Columbia, and Baker Intermediate School in Damascus
Who: Amateur state athletes of all ages competing in 18 sports, plus a 5K run for gold, silver and bronze medals
Registration: On-site registration in some sports, including diving, tenpin bowling, fencing, judo, jujitsu, shooting, table tennis, tae kwon do, track and field, cycling, the 5K road race and wrestling. Complete schedule on 6D.