All I want for Christmas is a big league team. Richmond is a great city. Compared to Charlotte or Raleigh-Durham, well, there really is no comparison. “Richmond is not a sports town,” so goes the oft heard lament around the region. We have had a number of shots at “triple A” sports, but whether it be baseball, hockey or arena football, all have left town.
The Braves fled town two years ago, as did the Yankees 40 years prior. Professional hockey, including the once proud Richmond Robins of the AHL, has failed time and time again. We now have two arena football teams playing before sparse crowds at the Ashe Center and Coliseum. Our 2008 national champion football team recently moved into an on-campus stadium with a high-school-like capacity.
There are two terrific college basketball teams playing in town right now; the Spiders have a hard time filling half their seats at the Robins Center, while VCU, with its huge student body, does a bit better with about 90 percent capacity at the 7,500-seat Siegel Center. The University of Richmond has recently announced that it will explore a plan to reduce its seating capacity by some 2,000. When it comes to sports, we are not a big league city.
Boy though, do we love to participate! Nearly every weekend, Richmonders flock to athletic events in which they are either volunteers or participants. Named the Outstanding Sports Commission in the nation in both 2006 and 2009, Sports Backers is responsible for much of the buzz around the city. Owning, managing or partnering in 40 events, Jon Lugbill’s organization takes pride in nearly 400,000 participants, resulting in an economic impact of over $50 million annually. Our city has attracted national championships in soccer, biking and running.
Our signature events really show off the beauty of our city. The Maymont Cross Country Festival is the premier event of its kind in the nation. Athletes from around the country convene in September to compete in scholastic, collegiate and open men and women’s divisions. In November, both sides of the river come alive in support of “America’s friendliest marathon.” On the same day, a half marathon and 8K race are also held. All three races rank in the top 25 and continue to grow. The Christmas season then brings our attention to our crowning glory, the Monument Avenue 10K. Registration has just begun for the April 2 race, which this year will include 40,000 racers of all ability levels. It seems that nearly an equal number will also line that fabulous thoroughfare, cheering runners and walkers on their way to the finish line at Monroe Park.
We are never going to have a big league team in Richmond. Those wonderful Flying Squirrels will continue to be the focal point of our rooting interests. Our fair city is, however, beginning to rival the likes of Boulder, Colo., as the center of the universe when it comes to participation sports.
Today marks an opportunity to register for the Monument Avenue 10K. Don’t worry; more an event than a race, all are welcomed to strut their stuff past the monuments.
Join our own Chester Y Training Team in preparation for your “off the couch, coming out party.” Log on to www.sportbackers.org for information. A question and answer session will also be held at the YMCA on Jan. 6. The 10-week training session will begin on Jan. 22.
I invite you to transform yourself from “watcher” to “participant.” You’ll never regret it.