The 365 Degree Sports Trail

Stop 1: Fort Lauderdale, FL

A little known fact about my two epic baseball journeys is that in both cases I originally had something bigger in mind. It seems strange to say that I wanted to do more than see 160-plus baseball stadiums in one season but the original plan was for a trip that was both longer and more varied – I hoped to see a sporting event in a different place every day for a calendar year. There were two elements of this which seemed important to me. One is, I wanted to go everywhere. Watching a baseball team play for ten straight days in the same place would be, to quote Homer Simpson..boring. The other is, I felt that the events themselves ought to be different and represent, in some way, the place where they were taking place. I envisaged rodeo in Wyoming, luge runs at Lake Placid and surfing in Hawaii. I even had a name for the tour which summed up these ideas..I planned to call it the 365 Degree Sports Tour and printed out letterhead and sought sponsorship for the thing.

Alas the wheels never got rolling on that odyssey and probably now never will. My wife and son would find the whole thing…boring. But the concept seems a perfect way to round out the schedule of the Project to Find America 2021 Virtual Trails so the 365 Degree Sports Trail begins today in my mind’s eye and in the pages of this blog. We’ll start in the corner of the country to which we’ve not yet been, sunny South Florida.

Worth Celebrating

As a lifelong baseball fan it pains me to admit this, but I’m not sure baseball is really America’s pastime anymore. I would like it better if it were and maybe it someday will be again, but for some time now that mantle has been passed to football. A 2017 Gallup Poll found that 37 percent of Americans list football as their favorite spectator sport, that is almost twice the number that listed basketball and baseball…combined, and it is down from a high of 43 percent a few years earlier. Experts point to a number of factors for this but one that doesn’t seem to get enough credit is the sport’s ubiquity and it plays out every late summer and fall weekend across the USA.

In most parts of the country, Friday nights are for High School Football. Hundreds of people turn out to watch the local high school teams play at thousands of schools nationwide. Then, on Saturday, college football takes over and many more fill hundreds of college football stadiums across the country. Finally, on Sunday, its time for the NFL and 10-15 big city stadiums fill to capacity (75-100 K each) for a game and millions of Americans spend a good portion of the afternoon and evening watching on regional and national television. There is simply no system like this in baseball or basketball…or anywhere else in team sports.

But while the NFL is the pinnacle of the football pyramid, its base and strength is found at the high school level and thus I am beginning the 365 Degree Sports Trail celebrating the exploits of a high school football team. But where and which one? Any of three states would be reasonable choices, California, Texas and Florida produce many more NFL players than the other 47. Currently, about half of active NFL players attended high school in one of those three states. But Florida is tops on the list with 289 current NFL players and I wanted to start this trail in the southeast anyway and so we begin about as southeast as this country gets.

Most of the high schools in the United States did not have any of their alumnus playing in the NFL this season. It is a question of numbers. There are fewer than 2,000 roster spots, including practice squads, at any given time in the NFL but there are close to 25,000 high schools in the nation. However, St. Thomas Aquinas, in Fort Lauderdale, had 15 former players playing on Sundays this year. For awhile this season I had both Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and Patriots RB James White on my Fantasy Football roster, they both played high school ball at St. Thomas Aquinas…at the same time!. The Bosa brothers, Geno Atkins, Bryan Cox, etc etc.etc. also played for the STA Raiders.

There is a fan web page devoted to the team complete with sponsors including Shula’s Steakhouse and last fall St. Thomas Aquinas closed out an abbreviated 8-1 season by winning its second-straight and overall 12th Florida State Championship with a 31-21 win over Orlando’s Edgewater High.

The Legacy of STA Football from NFL Network

There isn’t much football being played anywhere right now but then doesn’t stop people from writing about it. National Signing Day was earlier this month and the local newspaper live blogged as announcements were made. One final note, the STA football stadium, which seats 4,500 people is named after alumnus Brian Piccolo who died of cancer at the age of 26 after a short career in the NFL and was memorialized in the movie Brian’s Song.

A Work in Progress

Fort Lauderdale has been a mecca for college students on Spring Break for decades and it continues to be. It isn’t surprising, then, that the impending arrival of vacationing students and how they will behave amid the pandemic dominates the news right now in South Florida. But another question of what is happening on those beaches isn’t getting quite the current play, but it is a broader issue that won’t be going away any time soon.

By Yanjipy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71553794

The City of Fort Lauderdale, as evidenced in this picture, is beautiful and perilous at turns. It not only sits on the Atlantic Ocean, it is part of the Intracoastal Waterway and includes 165 miles of canals within its city limits. Severe tropical storms, which seem to happen with increased frequency, routinely flood parts of the city.

This article, in the mostly travel and tourism focused Fort Lauderdale Magazine, gets into the specifics of this problem and what it means for the future.

“South Florida is certainly the most vulnerable urban area in the United States to sea level rise. There is no scenario for Fort Lauderdale where you can just put up a wall or simply elevate every building; it’s an economic disaster that’s looming on the horizon.”

Jeff Goodell: The water will come

The article isn’t all bad news. It details some initiatives that have helped prevent flooding and curtailed effects when it has happened but they can be expensive and slow moving and run up against opposition when they prevent development. Meanwhile, the area will likely be front and center when an a simmering issue becomes news later this year.

Two years ago FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, announced its intent to revamp the way flood insurance is paid for. A Trump administration initiative called Risk Rating 2.0 was designed to make the costs of flooding and the cost of insurance match more closely by increasing the cost of insurance in high risk areas. It drew the ire of some politicians, including some of the former President’s usual supporters and in typical Washington fashion, the change was delayed for a year so that it could be pushed past election day.

The research organization Pew Charitable Trusts published an article last month entitled 3 Ways the Biden Administration and Congress Can Lower America’s Flood Risk—and Costs and included in it a recommendation to move forward with Risk Rating 2.0 when it is intended to take effect on October 1. Meanwhile, the issue is getting international attention as it is one element of a larger topic – how to work through politics in addressing climate change. This story appeared on the London School of Economics blog two days ago.

Coming up next on the Project to Find America, its back to the Innovative History Trail as we move west from Atchison.