sports

NICA

Not every high school kid is limber enough for football (either kind), tall enough for basketball, or fast enough for track.  And even if they are, some prefer their sports on two wheels; mountain biking is catching on as a school sport. 

Rogue Composite is a team formed of middle and high school mountain bikers from around the Rogue Valley.  And it is sanctioned by the Oregon Interscholastic Cycling League and National Interscholastic Cycling Association, NICA. 

JonRidinger, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10827275

For every single one of the people now playing major league baseball, there are four or five guys grinding out a living in the minor leagues, hoping to make it to "the show." 

As the major leagues have expanded, the minor leagues have contracted.  Not long after World War II, more than 400 American cities fielded professional teams, brimming with players who had some talent... just not enough. 

Longtime sportswriter Gaylon White pays homage to the heyday of the minor leagues and their players, in Left on Base in the Bush Leagues: Legends, Near Greats, and Unknowns in the Minors

Leonardo Dasilva/Wikimedia

  You probably know well the story of the African-American man breaking the color barrier in his sport. But this is not a story about Jackie Robinson or baseball.

A half-century before Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Major Taylor made his way into the ranks of bicycle racers, at a time when cycling was at its zenith and American race relations were entering their nadir.

Taylor's success is told in the book The World's Fastest Man: The Extraordinary Life of Cyclist Major Taylor, America's First Black Sports Hero.

Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24421530

They dress like they're going to a KISS concert, but they're really Oakland Raider fans. 

They take their shirts off in frostbite weather.  They name their pets for their favorite athletes. 

Is this you, or someone you know?  We'll revisit our discussion about sports fans going over the top, as described in Superfans: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom

guvo59/Pixabay

Maybe we're not seeing a trend in people getting fed up with football in the United States.  But there is a growth industry in books airing complaints about the game. 

Diane Roberts put a book on that shelf a few years ago with Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America.  She starts with her own ambivalence, being occasionally repelled by the sport but still attending every home game at Florida State, and broadens the focus to the country at large. 

Some of the concerns about football generally are deeper for college football: players don't get paid and often don't get educations. 

guvo59/Pixabay

Mark Leibovich's normal beat for the New York Times Magazine is Washington, DC and presidential politics. But for the last four years he's also been shadowing the NFL, publishing profiles of the game's more controversial figures, like Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Leibovich says we've hit "peak football," and he sees the NFL's decline in the past few years as a metaphor for the country's political and cultural anxiety. His book is Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times

David Eskenazi Collection

Jackie Robinson is celebrated every year for a major first: the first African-American player in major league baseball. 

But other black players were breaking into pro baseball around the same time, just not in the majors.  Artie Wilson, one of the best shortstops in pro baseball, played minor league ball in Oakland (California) starting in 1948. 

He is the subject of Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball’s Color Barrier.  Gaylon Wilson is the author and our guest. 

Weechie, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39180964

The world says "football," and we say "soccer."  We say "football," and the world says "huh?" 

Our version of football--pointy-ended ball and helmets--is not played in much of the world.  But soccer is the most popular sport in the world (under the name football).  And billions of people around the world will be watching the World Cup coming this summer, the quadrennial world championship. 

Where DID soccer come from, and how did it get so popular everywhere but here?  Answers to these questions and more appear in Laurent Dubois's book The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer

Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24421530

The winter Olympics in South Korea proved once and for all that American sports fans are not the only ones who take off their shirts in cold weather. 

Why DO people tempt frostbite and other maladies to cheer on their teams?  Because they may be Superfans, a type of person examined in a book by that name by George Dohrmann. 

His sources range from sports psychologists to the man who gathered a huge cheering section for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. 

HopsonRoad, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9109068

Norwich, Vermont.  Name ring a bell? 

It's the town of fewer than 3,500 that has had a representative on every U.S. Winter Olympic team (except one) since 1984.  How is that possible? 

Well, winter DOES last a long time in that part of Vermont... but there are other factors as well. 

Karen Crouse explores those in her book Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence

Sonya Thompson, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10473271

The Chicago Cubs won the baseball World Series just a year ago, and delighted fans who'd waited all their lives for a championship.  Fast-forward a year, and fans are back to disappointment: the Cubs didn't make it to the Series. 

None of this should surprise Ashland's Mark Scarpaci, who has learned to ride the ups and downs of Cub fandom. 

Scarpaci is the author of two books, including the novel Wrigley Sanders, about a boy born in the bleachers at the Cubs' home park.  It's not a typical sports success story, that's for sure. 

Wikimedia

Exhibition games are already underway in the NFL, and college football is just days away now. 

Don't ask Steve Almond to watch a game with you.  He loves football, but hates what it does to the people who play it and the society that celebrates it. 

We thrill at great catches and long runs, but overlook the toll on brains and bodies.  As Almond puts it, "we want the bacon, but we don't want to see the slaughterhouse." 

Schyler at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13465049

Baseball has always been a game of numbers, sometimes to the distraction of its less-ardent fans. 

But even diehards are confronted by different SETS of numbers that are increasingly used to measure the capabilities of players. 

RBI (runs batted in) and ERA (earned run average) are moving to the back seat, giving way to OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and WAR (wins above replacement). 

Help!  ESPN Senior Baseball Writer Keith Law provides help in his book Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball

The Road To Reign As Champions

Nov 10, 2016
naia.org

The college football team from Oregon went to the National Championship game, and lost. 

But this is about that OTHER game, and that other team. 

In 2014, both the University of Oregon and Southern Oregon University played for the top prize in college football.  In very different divisions, but a championship is a championship. 

SOU won, and yet the Ducks' efforts--albeit on a much larger stage--overshadowed the Red Raiders' victory. 

That team is the focus of a documentary already produced called "Becoming."  Former SOU player Michael Bryant had a hand in that, and is now working on a profile of a successful small-college team, in the film "MOmentum."

7 Marathons, 7 Days, 7 Continents

Nov 1, 2016
davidgething.com

Running a marathon a month would be a challenge. 

And probably like a walk in the park for David Gething.  He ran a marathon a DAY for a week. 

Wait, there's more... he ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, in the inaugural World Marathon Challenge, winning first place. 

He tells the story of the agony and the jet lag in his book Relentless

Hey Kids! Time For "Recess"

Mar 23, 2016
Chronicle Books

Don't you miss the teacher sending us out for recess?  All that running around on the playground gave us a chance to forget about math and spelling for a little while, and blow off some steam. 

And you know, it's not like anybody's STOPPING us from running outside for a little while each day. 

In fact, Ben Applebaum and Dan DiSorbo encourage us, in a book called Recess

It contains guides to playing the games of recess, for those of us who can't remember the rules (or the games themselves). 

Abraxus Games

Just in time for Halloween, the card game that nearly scares you to death! 

Alex Williams and Patrick James are board game designers from the Rogue Valley, and the makers of the new card game "Don't Die!"

The name tells you the object of the game.  Actually, it's a shortened version of "don't die as much as the other players." 

HarperCollins

Quick, name the most successful academic program at the nearest university.  No luck? 

Then try this question: how is that school's football team doing this fall?  That one is probably a lot easier, thanks to the American obsession with college football. 

Diane Roberts, who teaches at Florida State (6-1 through October 30) knows about the many issues with college football, but says she surrenders to her own "Inner Barbarian" on Saturdays in the fall. 

She examines the national obsession in her book Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America

Women's Wrestling Starts At SOU

Oct 14, 2015
Southern Oregon University

Wrestling season is highly anticipated at Southern Oregon University, every year. 

The wrestling squad is frequently among the top teams in the country. 

And now we have to say that's the MEN's squad, because there is a WOMEN's wrestling team as well. 

The Raider women's team hits the mats in competition for the first time this fall. 

And we get a preview of the team composition and its schedule, as other colleges also pick up the sports. 

"Bird Dream" Or Bird Brain? You Decide

Sep 14, 2015
Penguin Books

The response to "I'd like to skydive" is often this: "why would you jump out of a perfectly good plane?"  Planes are optional for the current generation of aerial adventurers: BASE jumpers and wingsuit flyers and their ilk.

Their exploits are daring in the extreme, and do sometimes meet with tragedy. 

Freelance journalist Matt Higgins gets inside the pursuit in his book Bird Dream: Adventures at the Extremes of Human Flight, now in paperback.

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