The long list of items that make our region a great place for sports could take up many pages, but a few things stand out for me.
I am thankful we have great facilities. This makes attending sporting events a pleasure. Blair County Ballpark, though built at less expense than similar ballparks, is a jewel. It has been recognized by both locals and visitors as a marvelous place to watch baseball.
Our local universities offer tremendous entertainment options, too.
I am also thankful that our region has cultivated many top athletes. It is amazing that we have a local athlete, Brian Sell, who has qualified for the 2008 Olympics. We have produced many other athletes who have played sports at the highest level. The Blair County Sports Hall of Fame has been a huge success because of that.
Such accomplishments are great, but it is every bit as wonderful to see the smiles on kids’ faces after a T-ball game as they are congratulated by coaches while snacks are being handed out. We have many dedicated volunteers who offer their valuable time to youth sports. My favorites stress character-building over on-field victories.
I am thankful that my neighborhood’s elementary school has built a cinder track and has used this resource to develop a program that rewards youngsters for their pursuit of fitness. Today’s kids are bombarded with a heavy dose of messages that encourage unhealthy diet and negative behaviors, so we need all the help we can get on this front.
I don’t have daughters, but I am thankful that Title IX gives our area’s young women opportunities that were otherwise unavailable to previous generations. I enjoy reading that many of these local athletes have earned prestigious scholarships.
If you are a pro football fan, how can you not be thankful about living in Steelers country? We are fortunate to watch football teams that make the playoffs almost every year. Even if the Steelers stumble a bit late in the season, they’ll still be in playoffs a month from now.
It is hard to be excited about 15 years of losing, but Pirates fans can be thankful that the people responsible for this string of futility have been replaced. I don’t expect miracles in 2008, but better choices by the new folks ought to bring gradual on-field success.
We could probably improve a few other things, too. Philadelphia sportswriter Bill Conlin has written columns on what he would do if he were “king.”
Well, if bestowed that honor, I’d put more emphasis on youth programs. Our local libraries could use more resources. They don’t have as many community advocates as our sports teams, but intellectual exercise ought to be an important priority, too.
I’d also put more physical education in our schools and build more neighborhood playing fields so that kids could enjoy pick-up games and youth coaches didn’t have to struggle to schedule practices.
Sadly, we have no choice but to find the funds to prosecute and house criminals, many who come here hoping to profit in ways that undermine our community.
That has made balancing our county’s books a huge challenge. I often wonder if more prudent allocation of resources for youth programs might somehow minimize these undesired costs. It seems a shame that some of our tax dollars fund gym equipment for jails, using money I’d rather spend on law-abiding kids.
Despite those concerns, we are very fortunate for what we have.
Trumpbour, a communications professor at Penn State Altoona, is a frequent contributor to Voice of the Fan.