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Archive for Friday, November 25, 2005

Hartsock: Lawrence every bit a sports mecca

November 25, 2005

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The assignment seemed simple enough: Write a column about why a local sports fan should feel thankful in this season of such thankfulness.

Piece o' pie, right?

Not so fast.

My mind raced; my fingers faltered.

Kansas University basketball? Nah, too easy. Everybody likes a winner, even when the winner's losing as much as it's winning.

OK, how about KU football? Nope, the jury's still out. If the Jayhawks win Saturday, sure, there will be plenty for lots of folks to be thankful for, but a loss to Iowa State means just another oh-so-close finish for the Jayhawks.

Lawrence High's return to its place among the state's football elite? Sure, the Lions are worthy, but no more so than Free State, which keeps finding itself there at the end.

In fact, I'll stay away from any one sport at any of the city schools for fear of slighting any of the others.

So, what does that leave? Why SHOULD a local sports fan feel thankful?

Haskell Indian Nations University deserves mention. The Fightin' Indians rarely get the publicity or acclaim they should, but HINU forever will compete in KU's mighty shadow.

Youth sports? I continue to be amazed at the number of sports in which my children could participate, should we be inclined to haul them to all corners of the city all day, every day. Soccer, basketball, tumbling, T-ball : the possibilities are nearly endless. But not everybody has kids, and I can't say I blame 'em sometimes.

So-called participatory sports, like city-league softball and basketball and volleyball and : you get the idea? All well and good, but athletes aren't necessarily fans, and vice versa.

So, maybe pro sports is the answer. Then again, the Royals didn't give anybody much of anything for which to feel thankful, and the Chiefs - well, they're as maddening as usual.

My mind took a few more dutiful steps on the treadmill.

Maybe, I thought, people should be thankful for : people. You know, the ones who make all the above possible. The unsung ones, the junior-high coaches and elementary-school P.E. teachers who lay the groundwork long before the accolades pour in. People like Lee Ice, a driving force in local youth sports, and Jim Whittaker, a local cycling promoter and tireless champion of the sport at all levels. How about the trainers? And team physicians? And scorekeepers and officials. And, heck, the parents who chauffeur their kids and tend to their wounds?

And slowly it dawned on me.

Local sports fans shouldn't be thankful for any one of the above reasons. They should be thankful for them all.

Over the summer, Lawrence was ranked the 72nd-best sports town in the country by The Sporting News. Of course, that figure is just a bit subjective. I'd sure be hard-pressed to find 71 better.

The depth and breadth of local athletic opportunities - either for participation or sheer enjoyment - really is impressive. From the littlest of the little leagues to the nearby big leagues, there really is something for everyone. Except the NBA and NHL. And Major League Lacrosse. But, hey, that's what cable is for.

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