Small-town sports are like a religion for many folks in the United States, and some of life’s most sacred hours occur near a baseball diamond or by a football grandstand. These experiences link one generation to another, and America’s cherished pastimes give us a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves.
The following towns have been highlighted in the media before, but a visit might be in order after discovering what makes them so special. Their stories survive in the national consciousness, but none of these moments would be possible without the distinct communities that helped make them a reality.
Concord is one of the best football towns in the country, and it wouldn’t have that claim to fame without De La Salle High School, which has produced NFL players such as Maurice Jones-Drew, D.J. Williams, Amani Toomer and T.J. Ward. Former head coach Bob Ladouceur led the team on a 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004, shattering the old national record of 72 straight games. The school has some of the most fervent fans in all of California, and Popular Science also voted Concord one of the top 50 greenest U.S. cities.
The late and great Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh called De La Salle’s winning streak “truly amazing,” pointing out that every year they played against the best competition possible. The Spartans (or any other team, for that matter) aren’t likely to top the record ever again, but their faithful followers make Concord an ideal place to be a sports nut.
Friday Night Lights fans may recognize the town that cheers on the Permian Panthers and was highlighted by author H.G. Bissinger’s book and a subsequent movie, but you probably don’t know the whole tale behind Odessa’s most revered high school football team. Gary Gaines, coach of the 1988 squad that advanced to the state playoffs despite losing star fullback James “Boobie” Miles in preseason play, eventually returned to head the team again in 2009 after leaving to coach college football for a time. Gaines is no longer roaming the sidelines for the six-time state champion Panthers since retiring in 2012, but the booster club still meets every Tuesday during football season and discusses what “Mojo” football opportunities to offer up for the community.
South Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Mo’Ne Davis’ shutout during the 2014 Little League Word Series was a legendary performance, and her dominance last summer led Life Magazine to select her as one of the top 100 women who changed the world. She hopes to be the point guard for Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut Huskies someday, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Little League Baseball World Series, its official name, has gained a lot more viewers in America ever since being picked up by ESPN; however, this tournament based in South Williamsport goes all the way back to 1947, when it was called the National Little League Tournament. The town also boasts a Short-Season class-A minor league team called the Williamsport Crosscutters.
The LLWS is free for attendees, but unfortunatelychampionship game tickets aren’t guaranteed. So if you want to catch it in person this summer, be sure to attend one of the earlier rounds. After its first season, the Little League World Series managed to triple in size over only three years. Fans can watch the games this summer on DISH, listen to them on the radio or stream a broadcast online. One thing is certain: You could see the next great big leaguer by attending a game in South Williamsport.