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East West Game may be done in Altoona

June 24, 2010
By Philip Cmor,

When the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association approached the Allegheny Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau a decade ago about helping bring an all-state game to Altoona, John Hayes recalled that the local tourism organization wanted to a 10-year commitment.

The PSFCA thought that might have been a little long, but, with the city having just lost the PIAA football championships a few years earlier and being eager to replace that event, it was still a pretty good match.

"It was a great marriage at that time,'' Hayes, the director of the PSFCA East West All-State Game, said. "A lot of the pieces just fell into place.''

So many once-happy marriages, though, are not destined to last. There's a very real possibility that the PSFCA and AMCVB might be going their separate ways, too, and last week's 10th edition of the East West Game could be the final one.

Under new management, the visitors bureau is in the midst of reevaluating all five of its signature events - including the East West Game.

"We are going through a complete analysis,'' new AMCVB executive director Mark Ickes said.

Economics is the driving force. Ickes said the visitors bureau will be looking at three factors:

n Does the event help the local economy through visitor spending.

n What is the ratio of investment to incoming revenue.

n Is the event the best use of staff and resources in fulfilling the bureau's goal of bringing money into the area.

Ickes advised not to read much into it, but he said the mission of the AMCVB is to promote and market properties in the county as opposed to organizing its own events, which, to a large degree, is what the visitors bureau has done for the game.

"We will be making a joint decision,'' Ickes said, noting that the PSFCA will be involved, as will the Altoona Area and Hollidaysburg Area school districts, who donate venues for practices and the games. "It's more of a global issue . With the challenges of this budgetary climate, it's crucial and necessary to analyze [our events].''

There was speculation even before players arrived for last week's game that the contest - never really a huge money-maker, nor necessarily designed to be one - could be on shaky footing. An interview conducted with AMCVB staffer Mike Waka, who was working as the liaison with the East team at Mansion Park, that aired Thursday on WTAJ-TV further fueled concerns, focusing on the economic and organizational problems of hosting the game.

Hayes had what he described as a brief "sitdown meeting'' with AMCVB officials during the week. His comments didn't exactly engender optimism about the game's future in Altoona.

"I think the players involved, primarily the group at the convention center/visitor bureau, have to take a hard look at the investment/return kind of situation,'' Hayes said. "From the coaches' standpoint, we can't be anymore pleased with the objectives that we have for the game . However, we realize that there are elements to this game other than the game itself.''

Ickes didn't have any figures available as to how much money the AMCVB puts into or receives from the East West Game.

Should the visitors bureau pull out, even in the next few weeks, the future of the game anywhere, at least for next year, would be in serious doubt. Hayes said the next meeting of the football coaches association isn't scheduled until December.

"We really haven't investigated a Plan B,'' Hayes said. "We were so pleased with the outcome of the game that we never really investigated an alternative.''

Ickes had positive comments about the game itself.

"It was an outstanding week for the game and the community,'' Ickes said. "I can't say enough about our staff for the responsibilities they took and seeing the game through.''

That, however, might not be enough.

"It may not be that this game is not what they hoped it to be,'' Hayes said. "It may just not be the best for their time and effort.

"The coaches association couldn't have been more happy, but we are probably the least important of the decision-makers in this process.''

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