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Woe for a city that is unloved



Published: Wed, August 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Once in a great while, a city gets a chance to puff up its chest, lift its chin and walk with a little Travolta-esque swagger.

So on behalf of the city of Niles, may I say: In your face Yakima, Washington!

The Sporting News came out with its annual list of Best Sports Cities this week, and the magazine ranked Niles 318th out of 376 cities -- ahead of Yakima and behind Comstock Park, Mich.

TSN compiled the list -- arguably among the most useless in our country's history -- by calculating factors like number of teams, win/loss record, fan attendance, and so on.

In fact, TSN considered just about everything sports related -- except tradition. (Which makes sense since only about 98 percent of sports fans think tradition is important, anyway.)

The rankings seem designed to tick off the highest possible number of people, thus ensuring dim-witted sportswriters will give them plenty of free promotion. (By the way, you can view the list at www.sportingnews.com/sportcities2001/).

No. 1: New York-New Jersey was TSN's top-ranked "city" -- just one of the mag's truly brilliant choices.

Cincinnati (motto: "We still love you Cris Collinsworth!") was ranked 24th -- eight spots ahead of Cleveland. (Insert your own Cincinnati sports joke here.) Cincy was the top-ranked city in Ohio.

Columbus ("All the good sports were already taken") was ranked 31st. Adding a hockey team to its Yankee farm team and pro soccer team still wasn't enough to push it out of the top 50.

Some readers might be confused by a few of TSN's selections, so I've tried to help out by answering some common questions.

Q. Why are San Francisco and Oakland paired together, but Niles and Youngstown are separate?

A. Basically, The Sporting News wanted to make the rankings fair for everyone, especially smaller communities. (One-stoplight towns like Washington D.C. and Baltimore were paired together, for instance.) Obviously, if you pair budding metropolises such as Niles and Youngstown (170th), the rankings might not make sense. One does wonder how many points Niles would have gotten from Girard's indoor golfing dome.

Q. What was the official response from Cincinnati?

A. Indignation. They can't believe they were ranked that high, either.

Q. Did Philadelphia deserve to be ranked 4th?

A. Yes. Philly fans traditionally rank high on the "warm and fuzzy" meter. Santa Claus-booing decreased 13 percent last season.

Q. How could Athens, Ohio (102nd) be ranked, but not Canton?

A. Good question. Despite having the best high school rivalry in the country and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton couldn't compete with the annual Ohio University at Delaware field hockey clash. Tough, but fair.

Q. How could Athens and Kent (112th) be ranked ahead of Akron (129th), even though Akron has a minor league baseball team?

A. Many of the rankings were decided after significant alcohol consumption. As a result, TSN slanted the criteria in favor of schools known for extracurricular activities rich in hops and barley. (That, and the fact that none of Akron's students have actually attended a Zips football game.)

Q. Were points really taken away from cities with soccer teams?

A. Yes, which is why no European cities made the list.

Q. Is Niles doing anything to celebrate?

A. Niles mayor Ralph Infante Jr. is unavailable until next week, so I couldn't get the official word. Rumor has it that they're considering changing the city motto to "Heckuva lot better than Wapokeneta."

Q. Any predictions for next year?

A. Thanks to increased fan interest -- increased beer sales at Cafaro Field, perhaps? -- Niles moves up to 317th. Comstock Park won't know what hit 'em.

XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at scalzo@vindy.com.




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