Column: What about Niles, ESPN?

Published 12:10 pm Friday, January 7, 2005

By Staff
Last week, ESPN the magazine came out with its list of the top sports cities in America. Boston edged out Indianapolis for the No. 1 ranking. Indy would have been No. 1 if it hadn't have been for Ron Artest pummeling fans in Detroit.
Reading the list made me wonder how Niles would perform in the rankings. To qualify for ESPN's list, a city has to have at least two professional sports teams, so obviously our town doesn't qualify. But, for a small town, Niles has its fair share of good sports. There's a lot going on in our local athletic world, and people may not realize it.
As far as high school sports, though our local schools may not be the biggest in the state, they can hang with the Class A schools athletically. Look at what athletes from our community did during the fall season.
Most notable, and most impressive is the state championship Niles' senior Ben Landgraf won in golf. After missing the state finals by one stroke last year, he came back this season and won the whole thing.
Though Landgraf claims the only title our teams have won recently, local schools have enjoyed a great amount of success recently. Look at tennis, for example. We sent three area teams to the state finals in October. Brandywine, Buchanan and Dowagiac all advanced.
For the Bobcats and Bucks, it was the second year in a row advancing to the final round of competition. And, though there were no state champs, Buchanan placed 10th and Brandywine 14th. Not bad when you consider how many schools there are in Class C.
Niles' girls basketball team is a perennial powerhouse, not only in the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference, but also the state. This year the Vikings won their eighth straight district title and advanced to the state quarterfinals. They came dangerously close to making a trip to East Lansing for the Final Four, but fell just short.
Speaking of basketball, last year our community did have a team that made it to the Final Four. Buchanan's boys team got to East Lansing before falling in the semifinals. Their three leaders from the squad return this year as seniors, and the Bucks have a great shot at making it to the semis again. Buchanan is undefeated thus far this season.
So, we clearly excel in prep sports around here. But even if high school athletics aren't your thing, our local sports scene extends beyond prep sports. There are other athletic happenings here that make our community great.
This summer, Buchanan's Jeff Smoke traveled all the way to Greece to compete in the summer Olympic games with the U.S. Kayaking team. Both of his parents were also Olympians.
Garrett Brigitha, a former Niles basketball player, enjoyed success at Central Michigan and is now playing professionally in Italy.
We've even got the smaller, less-known sports covered. John Hochstedler is a drag racer from Niles who has enjoyed succcess this year. He competes in Osceola, Ind. and won his division this past season.
Speaking of obscure sports, ever been to a football game and seen that guy with the dogs who chase down frisbees? Odds are you saw Niles' own Bill Camp. Camp and his dogs travel the country putting on shows at NFL games and other events.
Two weeks ago he was in Indianapolis performing at halftime of the Colts' game. Earlier this year he did his act at a Detroit Lions game. Camp has won world championships competing with his dogs and is currently working on a training video.
All of these are prime examples of how great a sports town Niles is. Most don't realize the variety of sports we as local fans have at our disposal.
So while Boston and Indianapolis are great if you're a fan of the professional game, I'll take the hometown charm of our community and its athletes any day.