For years, it was a tradition for Dan Tolin and his family.
Each February, Tolin, his wife and children would participate in a monthlong sporting extravaganza that brought together amateur athletes from the four corners of the Cowboy State. The sport hardly mattered, said Tolin, whose family excelled in wrestling, track events, the biathlon, half-marathons and basketball at the Cowboy State Games in Casper each winter.
It was a tradition, Tolin said, that he's sad to see won't be continued, now that the board of directors, citing an empty bank account and the lack of a leader, has decided to pull the plug.
"I'm saddened and disappointed. It's something we've come to do, and for my family to come and expect every Presidents' Day weekend," said Tolin, who served as a wrestling commissioner for the Cowboy State Games for years and as a participant for more than two decades.
The Cowboy State Games, a 22-year sports showcase that began in Cheyenne during the summer and evolved into a winter wonderland of strength, speed and skill in Casper, will no longer be a part of the recreational landscape. The three-member board of directors announced Wednesday it was discontinuing the event that made amateur athletes into local sports superstars.
The games are ending for a number of reasons, said executive director Eileen Ford. Ford has accepted a new job, and she and the board believe there isn't someone ready to take the spot, especially since that person might have to go several months without receiving a paycheck. More importantly, Ford said, there is very little money in the bank at the moment for any kind of large-scale event.
"Somebody would have to be willing to work for nothing until some sponsorships come through," she said. "We've had enough money to pay the bills, but as far as the luxury to pay for lots of other things, we haven't had that for a long time."
The decision to end the Cowboy State Games "was made at a pretty good time. We didn't have any outstanding commitments," she said.
The Cowboy State Games have faced financial troubles in the past. Just last year, the games were canceled, only to be brought back days later after the group secured an influx of cash that allowed the games to go on. In 2001, the games were shifted to a primarily winter schedule after many athletes, Ford said, began participating in summer traveling teams that siphoned the talent for competitions.
Money has been the biggest hurdle. This week, the board members decided it was one they just couldn't clear.
"It's extremely emotional for me," said Ford, 44, who has been involved with the games in some capacity since 1988. "The difficulty in raising funds - that is the battle that's taken the biggest toll on me."
The Cowboy State Games, which survived on a $78,000 budget, also suffered from a dearth of long-term sponsorship commitments that could have ensured the games' viability.
"I didn't take that approach to get long-term commitments," she said. Asked if that would have helped, Ford said, "If we could have done that, it would have taken some of the uncertainty out of (the games)."
Stan Martin, who served as karate commissioner for the Cowboy State Games for many years, figures Casper will miss some of the revenue brought in by athletes who stay in the city's hotels and eat at the city's restaurants.
"We looked forward to this every year," said Martin, a member of the United States Tae Kwon Do federation. "We've made a lot of good friends and great relationships.
"This is the only opportunity we take to compete on the state and local level," he said, noting that most of his competitors' tournaments come from within the federation.
Martin said he brought as many as 150 competitors to the games each year, from Cody, Gillette, Cheyenne and Laramie.
"I didn't want this to happen," Martin said, "but it's something outside our control."
Don Banks of Gillette, a member of the board of directors, said a precipitous decline in attendance hurt as well. In the early 1980s through the mid 1990s, the games were "quite a force" in Wyoming, he said.
The games' demise "has been a conversation piece for the last couple of years," he said.
Banks said the games were unique because it was a place where someone like a 60-year-old shot-putter could excel. "There's no venue for them like that," he said.
Banks and others praised Ford for sticking with the program and making the games themselves a success, despite monetary shortfalls.
"You're not going to get a better organizational structure or an organizational leader than Eileen was," Banks said. "The state games, under the direction of Eileen, served the state well. Maybe this (outcome) speaks for itself, and this kind of event is no longer needed. …The writing's been on the wall for the last three or four years. I'm not surprised that it came to this."
Contact night editor David Mirhadi at (307) 266-0616 or email@example.com