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VOL. 11 | NO. 24 | Saturday, June 16, 2018

Editorial: Memphis’ Sports Heritage Tells Enduring Story

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How many Memphis sports franchises can you name? How many tickets to NFL exhibition games did you buy up to the city’s last push for an NFL team more than 20 years ago?

To some, the answers to those questions are a roadmap to a single pro franchise in an enduring league.

But the Memphis sports landscape, like the city itself, isn’t that simple.

We are a basketball town – Tigers to Grizzlies – with a stadium-filling, red-hot college football team. And don’t forget our two beloved college football classics: the 30-year-old Southern Heritage Classic and the 60-year-old AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

From the Memphis Turtles to the Chicks to the Blues, then back to the Chicks and up to the Redbirds, baseball may be the longest-running storyline in the city’s sports history. And it includes the Negro League Memphis Red Sox as well as semi-pro teams, like the one Hall of Famer Bill Terry played for when he left the minor leagues in 1915 to work for Standard Oil in Memphis and play for the plant’s team. Terry turned down New York Giants manager John McGraw’s first offer of a return to the big leagues.

There is no question the Memphis Grizzlies have taken the city’s sports scene to a new level.

It’s the equivalent of a cannonball into a pool that was already pretty deep and built on the foundations of places like Martin Stadium, Hodges Field, Colonial Country Club as well as Galloway and Pine Hill, Crump Stadium, Russwood Park, The Mid-South Coliseum and Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

The story of Memphis sports continues to be told like the story of the city – in its diversity. So in less than a year, AutoZone Park will be home not only to the Redbirds but a United Soccer League franchise, a sport that has its own long list of teams and leagues.

After 60 years, the FedEx St. Jude Classic is at the end of one era and the dawn of another as it becomes part of the World Golf Championships.

Meanwhile, Rachel Heck, who played in the U.S. Women’s Open last year while a sophomore at St. Agnes Academy, is among a rising crop of amateur golfers with remarkable stories. She’s also part of a generation of athletes participating in an expanding sphere of amateur sports that includes lacrosse, water polo, rugby and Gaelic football.

For every pro athlete with a retired jersey and endorsement deal, a dozen more find their place just outside the spotlight. No-name teams. Golden Gloves champions who never went pro. Olympians with medals that friends and neighbors still want to see. Players with a brief time in the spotlight – from game night in The Haven to a packed gym in Orange Mound.

Some have a personal best they’ve kept personal, a letter jacket neatly folded and put in a box on an upper shelf, while others share their knowledge as coaches.

All come together in a sports constellation that has no season, just plenty of bright lights from different distances.

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