1998: The Year in Sports

Thomas Crone
Rather than try to tie all these loose ends into a tidy package, I'll just go with an overarching theme -- underdogs are good -- and go at it in piecemeal fashion.

Neat feat: The best sporting moment, and certainly the most dramatic, that I saw in 1998 occurred at the St. Louis Marathon. I walked the event (a strange practice in patience, for sure!) and saw the leading runner packs begin to pass the walkers on the "riverfront mile" near the Arch. Just at the south end of the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, train tracks cut along a street. And, unfortunately, that morning saw a train moving on it, too. Instead of pausing, several runners jumped onto the suddenly-stopping train and jumped through. One was caught as the engine began rumbling backward, the cars lurching at the change in direction. Those of us taking a more cautious approach were rattled by that image and thought about it for miles. Impressed with the effort, yes. Mystified, too? Yes. More than anything, struck by the sporting spirit of that all-out assault on the clock. Crazy, no doubt, and admirable as well.

No charge, really: It takes a real (odd) fan to actually draw fantasy teams for the new International Basketball League franchise, coming soon to St. Charles County. Select five from among these possible guards: H Waldman (UNLV/St. Louis University), Erwin Claggett (SLU), Kiwane Garris (Illinois), Richard Keene (Illinois), Julian Winfield (SLU/Mizzou), Tyus Edney (UCLA), Anthony Pieper (Marquette). Select five from these forwards: Fred Hoiberg (Iowa), Lou Roe (UMass), Anthony Bonner (SLU), Bobby Brannen (Cincinnati), Derek Grimm (Mizzou), Jerry Gee (Illinois). At center, maybe: Faisal Abraham (Marquette), plus your foreigner spot. Toss in current college options such as Ryan Robertson (Kansas), Rodney Buford (Creighton), Leroy Watkins (Illinois State), Danny Moore (Southwest Missouri) and Monte Hardge and John Woods (Mizzou). Can't wait for the IBL! Too bad it's in St. Charles! Yes!

Major pain: Continued news on the soccer front suggests, well, little to get truly excited about. A lower-level, short-season United Systems of Indoor Soccer Leagues team has been organized for next summer, a good sign in the development end of things, with college-aged players to be stressed. And the indoor Premier Soccer Alliance has announced that it's coming to the Family Arena in St. Charles, though the overall health of the Ambush doesn't suggest that the region's crying out for a second wall-ball team. For the consumer, it simply appears that the necessary ingredients aren't matching up here -- high dollars, a cagey approach to expansion of the Billiken Sports Center by SLU, inconsistent fan demand and a still-undetermined idea of whether an A-League team is workable in light of the absence of Major League Soccer. Maybe next year.

Holiday cheer: Plenty of people have been plenty nice over the past year to our, um "sports department," even as this section was reduced. (Not a complaint. Everything's just fine. Couldn't be better.)

Kudos to the sports-information department at St. Louis University. After calling other regional colleges for information, you realize how quickly and efficiently the SLU group works. Thank you.... And to Margo Garvin, who's put on several quality women's-basketball events in the last months. Her new Keep Hoop Alive publication is also the best yet, a thick guide to prep and college hoops. Call 727-5599 for that.... Nice guy Radford Beasley Jr. continues to climb the featherweight-boxing ranks, winning a couple of minor world titles, now solidifying his hold in the World Boxing Council Top 10, with a North American Boxing Federation title try. A nice guy in a business that could use more of them.... Gateway Athletics and the St. Louis Track Club continue to do a lot with a little, organizing local running series that really capture the spirit of amateur, yet competitive, athletics.... And let's hear it for Mike Rainey and Rick Wallace, the nicest guys at KFNS (590 AM)!

Holiday jeer: Though it's great to see all the new, affordable sports options coming into town, it's too bad that they continue to drift westward. As fellow columnist Thomas R. Raber pointed out earlier this year, the minor-league baseball Rascals, for example, are building a brand-new stadium while trying to give it an "authentic" feel, even though Lemay's Heine Meine offers exactly that.... These new franchises are also beginning to look like a glut. New baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey teams with midsized prices are all coming in the next 8-15 months. Some of these organizations will feel a quick pinch.... And would somebody please develop the old Southtown Famous-Barr lot on Kingshighway? It would make a lovely, I dunno, soccer stadium in the heart of the city.... Sports -- you're supposed to dream, right?n

THOMAS R. RABER
Catherine Case was right. At the close of 1997, the founder of the area's first women's senior ice-hockey club told The Riverfront Times: "Women's hockey is getting ready to explode."

By the end of February, the U.S. women's hockey team had won the gold medal at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano. In March, Case's St. Louis Force wound up its inaugural season with a 14-2-3 record and a berth in the USA Hockey regional playoffs at Madison, Wis., where they were eliminated by the Illinois Storm.

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