<%image(20050929-hildenepolo.jpg|110|90|hildene polo vt)%> Though many have lamented, in the strongest of language at times, the inability of Philadelphia’s pro sports teams to bring home a championship within recent memory (25 years), the fact of the matter is that Philly is one of the best towns around for a sports fan. The shock waves of loyalty and passion that rumble from the epicenter in South Philly make the ground tremble in Doylestown, where the Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, and Sixers reign uncontested as the teams of choice. Beyond these major teams, Philly boasts minor league teams in hockey and baseball (right across the river in NJ that is), as well as professional teams in women’s basketball, arena football, lacrosse, indoor soccer, and I’m sure the list goes on.
Southern Vermont on the other hand must import professional sports in the same way that the Midwest has to import seafood. It’s not very fresh and exciting, but a half-dead lobster or frozen hunk of salmon at a Midwest Red Lobster is better than no seafood at all, and that’s how it is with the Red Sox and Patriots. You’ll see the occasional hat, a game may be on in the local bar, but it’s not a regular part of the diet, a craving equivalent to food and water. The local sports section of the Bennington Banner is a starvation diet of high school sports and maybe, just maybe, a box score of the Red Sox game.
The only sports that seem to have caught on in Southern Vermont are also very indicative of the two kinds of people around here: NASCAR and polo. The wealthy folk who have retired in Manchester go to polo matches at the Hildene, the vacation home of the Lincoln family, while many others grab a case of bear at one of our many shops and convenience stores and enjoy a quiet afternoon of racing. The rest must content themselves with the sports of their children on the elementary and high school level if even have a need for sports in the first place.
And while Southern Vermont is painfully weak in the professional sports realm, there is a huge upside: we have a virtual buffet of outdoor sports. There are plenty of rivers, lakes, and ponds for kayaking, swimming, canoeing, and fishing. With the Appalachian Trail and vast networks of trails, there are plenty of wonderful hikes in the mountains and valleys. To find anything resembling the outdoor opportunities, we had to drive a good hour and a half north of Doylestown to the Delaware Water Gap (part of the AT).
Some of the features of Vermont also lend itself to different kinds of outdoor recreation. Doylestown was swamped with traffic, so planners developed a network of bike trails and the nearby Delaware River also had bike trails over 40 miles long on each side. Such parks are not as necessary with dirt roads that rarely have more than two cars on them in an hour. Of course Pennsylvania has worked fairly hard at creating numerous recreation parks, something that is not quite as common in Vermont. Though such parks are not really necessary, I have found that Southern Vermont is a virtual wasteland for those who love disc golf. There is one 9-hole course in Bennington that has been described on the Pro Disc Golf site as “a law-suit waiting to happen.” Alas, all of the good disc golf courses are in the northern Green Mountains. At this I lament and can only dry my eyes and plan to build my own basket to use in our yard. It’s not the real thing, but desperation is beginning to set in. The discs that sit so quietly in the trunk of our Saturn were intended for a more noble purpose. I dearly miss the days of disc golf at Tinicum Park, a short drive from Doylestown.
My adaptation to the Vermont sports atmosphere was greatly aided by four years of graduate school while in Pennsylvania. Grad school forcibly removed me from the world of sports due to my shortage of time. In addition, long hours in front of the computer or in a chair with a book drove me toward physical activity outdoors. My flame for sports has been trimmed back, and while it still burns bright, it can be appeased with a few minutes of browsing online: shoot, the Phillies are out of the wild card race AGAIN, the Eagles may lose their quarterback for the season, the Red Sox may bow to the mighty Yanks, and I’m done. At this point of my life I find that I really enjoy a hike in the mountains, biking or running along the Battenkill river, and kayaking on a lake. Even if my job and other responsibilities keep me planted in the valley for now, it’s a comfort to see the Green Mountains looming over me and to know that the weekend is coming.