Thursday, July 14, 2011

Richmond: Not Rugged, but Sly

I'm scared of balls being thrown toward me and I have zero hand/eye coordination.

But, yes, that was me at today's Virginia Historical Society's Banner Lecture on "Facts and Legends of Sports in Richmond."

Honestly, it was the appeal of using a different lens to look at Richmond's history that got me there.

For all my historical geekiness, the closest I've come to exploring the past through sports was the Armstrong/Walker exhibit at the Black History Museum, here.

Today's illustrated lecture combined the writing talent of Brooks Smith (who does similar commentary on WCVE) and Wayne Dementi, the keeper of all old Richmond photographs.

His studio on Grace Street is a treasure trove for lovers of history and photography and I've found myself lost in there looking at this city's past through the lenses of long-dead shooters.

Using great imagery, the two men took turns sharing sports anecdotes about players, teams, venues and sports as they related to RVA.

Beginning with the 1968 Tuckahoe 12-year old baseball team that went to the Little League World Series in Osaka (they lost 1-0), I was surprised at how many in the audience remembered the event.

At a recent reunion of the team, one of the original players remarked, "How did we know when we were twelve years old that it would end up being the highlight of our lives?" Boy, is that a heavy statement.

We heard about quoits, the predecessor of horseshoes and the Quoits Club which was created on Buchanan's Farm, where VCU's campus stands today.

Apparently the PGA Championship was played at Hermitage Country Club with slammin' Sammy Snead winning the fabulous prize of $3500.

A writer at the time described the golf course as "Not rugged, but sly." Maybe that could be RVA's new slogan.

Baseball player Ray Dandridge grew up paying ball in the cornfields of Church Hill using a branch for a bat and cardboard and tape for a ball, an image I can't even summon.

Southside Speedway, which I know only for its "Go Fast, Turn Left" bike races, has hosted quite an array of famous NASCAR drivers, I discovered.

Billie Jean King played the first Virginia Slims Tennis Championship at Westwood Club in 1970 (sponsored by Philip-Morris, natch), making us the birthplace of the professional women's tour.

Pictures of the Tour de Trump (and later the Tour DuPont) with big name bicyclists  tearing through downtown Richmond in the late '80s and early '90s were as impressive for the spectator turnout as for the well-known names.

When Lance Armstrong was asked his thoughts on Taylor Hill after having to ascend it four times during the course of the race, he responded with, "Whew!"

You can't beat a bicyclist for a pithy quote.

And now that I've learned that we were home to the first recorded cricket game in the New World, I know you can't beat Richmond for its noble sports history.

So next time you go down Monument Avenue and see beer-swilling kids playing Bag-o in the grassy median, you'll know that they're really just descendants of the Buchanan Quoits Club.

Toss on, sports enthusiasts. Just please don't toss near me. I catch like a girl.

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