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UPDATED VIDEO: Western Police and Fire Games in Santa Clarita

Athletes anticipate atmosphere of camaraderie, competition, banter

Posted: June 13, 2009 8:53 p.m.
Updated: July 9, 2009 1:42 p.m.

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The Hyatt Regency Valencia bustled with public servants checking in for the annual Western States Police and Fire Games on Saturday.

The games, free to the public, kick off today as thousands of firefighters and police officers take to the competition floor.

“I think there’s excitement and anxiety,” said Rocky Costa, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s lieutenant who registered the athletes on Saturday. “For some it’s a new thing for them to compete. Some are veterans and just have it down.”  

Athletes and their families enjoyed drinks, chips and guacamole while listening to live music from My Classic Rock Band on Saturday evening in the Hyatt’s courtyard.

But come game-time, many athletes described the anticipated atmosphere in one way: it’s camaraderie off the field and competition on the field.

“It’s fun to come here and see people we don’t get to see  — but when we get on the field we want to punish them and go home with the gold, so we get the bragging rights,” said Sacramento Fire Department firefighter Frank Nasca after he checked into his hotel room on Saturday afternoon.  

Nasca will be competing in baseball with his teammates from the Fire Department, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and Sacramento Police Department.

“We came here for one reason — we won the gold last year in Boise,” he said. “We’re the defending champs.”

Special Agent Supervisor Tony Ybarra, of Riverside, said banter always plays out between the fire and police departments.

“There’s friendly competition between the two,” said Ybarra, of the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.

But no matter how much banter goes around, Detective Matt Yost, of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, said the games are all about the fun.

“You don’t have to win, you just have to compete,” said Yost, who will participate in the Toughest Competitor Alive event. The competition includes a back-to-back three-mile run, shot put, 100 meter dash, 100 yard swim, bench press, rope climb, pull-ups and obstacle course.

Bodybuilding is expected to attract hundreds of spectators today at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center. Other competitions held today are baseball, cycling, softball, table tennis, toughest competitor alive, rifle, roller hockey and triathlon.

More than 9,000 police and firefighters from 14 western states as far as Hawaii and Wyoming are expected to attend the games this week and flood Santa Clarita with sales-tax revenue.

Event organizers anticipate an economic impact of $5 million to $8 million because it’s a week-long event, said Amy Sparks, tourism analyst with the Santa Clarita Tourism Office.

“We’re excited to see a good bar, find a place to eat and hang out,” Nasca said. “And maybe we’ll make a trip to Magic Mountain.”

Indirectly, Santa Clarita could leave a positive impression on visitors and create a platform for city officials to go after the next big event, said Jason Crawford, the city’s economic development and marketing manager.

“From a direct impact point of view having thousands of visitors staying in town, spending money at restaurants, stores, filling up our hotel rooms and adding extra days to the trip to enjoy Six Flags brings a lot of outside dollars to our community, strengthening our economy,” Crawford said.

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