PRINCESS ANNE -- Being ranked last on the list of leading sports cities in America came as a cultural shock, a literary knockdown pitch that has upset the normally tranquil pace of this quaint and quiet community on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where spectacular fields of corn stretch to infinity and even unannounced visitors from the big city are welcomed as if they're home folks.
Princess Anne feels as if it took a belittling brush from The Sporting News, which history tells us is the nation's oldest publication dealing with fun, games and box scores. What Princess Anne did to deserve such disdain or acclaim -- depending on the perspective -- is a matter of conjecture among the citizenry. It's a topic of conversation on street corners, in the coffee shop or coming out of Harris' hardware store.
Because Princess Anne is close to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, which has a Division I basketball team, it qualified for consideration under the ground rules The Sporting News formulated for this rather bizarre contest. It's incongruous that Princess Anne, which at last count has a population of 1,915, is included with the metropolitan behemoths of Detroit, Chicago, New York and all the rest of the major cities that hold multiple franchises in professional leagues.
But that's the way it evolved. Princess Anne certainly didn't ask for any such consideration. It resents being placed 270th out of 270 cities, towns and villages that went into the mix. It would rather be left alone. The Sporting News doesn't label Princess Anne in a demeaning way, except to call it the "least best sporting town" in the nation.
"The whole idea is absurd," said Charles Muir, the treasurer of Somerset County and a onetime pitcher in the Orioles' farm system. "How can you link Princess Anne with cities that have major-league clubs? There's no adequate rationale."
Liz Holland, originally from Baltimore and editor of the Somerset Herald, was similarly stunned to read about Princess Anne getting such unwanted and, to her, unwarranted attention. "I didn't know we were a sports town to begin with," she said. "I was surprised."
The Sporting News, no doubt, has created a cause celebre of a conversation piece. But, its editors can relax. There's no price placed on their heads, nor is there going to be any edict comparable to "being banned in Boston," which used to happen to books that didn't pass self-censure in that erudite stronghold of upper-crust nobility and morality.
Princess Anne has much to be proud of, considering it's the home of Samuel Chase, who put his name on the Declaration of Independence, and also of "Itchy-Twitchy" Dick Porter, who went from the Orioles to the Cleveland Indians and gained a distinct notoriety by routinely gyrating his buttocks before swinging at the next delivery from the pitcher.
It's the belief around here that the story planners of The Sporting News don't know much about Princess Anne, or even an oyster fritter from a crab cake.
Princess Anne believes it has been damaged. There's much to see in this tranquil and delightful garden spot of the world. A visit will reinvigorate the tired spirit and do wonders for a burdensome soul.
You can still view, for instance, the historic boxwood arrangements that have thrived long after Gen. George Handy, who died in 1856, planted them, or gaze upon the Teackle Mansion, built in 1801, or step into the lobby of the Washington Hotel, which was built in 1744, during the reign of King George II. Then, by all means, see the Old Presbyterian Church Lecture Hall on Prince William Street.
For side trips, you can walk the charming streets of nearby Oriole, see the exciting sights of Crisfield, Deal Island, Hudsons Corner, Pocomoke or even venture to Reward, an estate not far from Shelltown, to view two Jacobean chimneys, even if you never thought about staring at chimneys.
From near or far, they are especially noteworthy in that Jacobean chimneys have a style of their own and could never be seen on just any old house by the side of the road.
But, no, The Sporting News and its august editorial board chose to ignore such special points of interest in their extraordinary, but controversial presentation.
Garland Hayward, a two-term president of the Princess Anne City Council and newly re-elected to the town commission, teaches agriculture at Delmar High School and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He proudly wears his UMES T-shirt.
"I find the story lacking in significance," he quickly said. "It's as if they had nothing else to write about. To me, I'm a little bit offended.
"To be correct, UMES isn't even in Princess Anne. It's close, that's all, but not officially. The story makes Princess Anne look bad, and I don't like that. I think UMES, my alma mater, has got a right to be upset."
The office manager for town government, one Brenda Benson, said: "I've gotten a lot of calls for reaction, even from Canada. It's kind of silly. I don't get the point. I like to think maybe the reason we're ranked last, 270 out of 270, is UMES is putting more emphasis on studies than on sports. I hope so, anyhow."
Jim Hinman Jr., chamber of commerce president and also owner of the local funeral establishment, was deeply perturbed.
"I don't appreciate any criticism of Princess Anne or Somerset County," Hinman said. "And I am sure a lot of other people feel the same way. I think this is unjust."
The Daily Times in Salisbury made the listing of Princess Anne a Page 1 story, above the fold, and this has further stoked the fires of resentment.
Listed ahead of Princess Anne are 269 other locations. It hurts to see such places as Natchitoches, La., Loretto, Pa., Cedar City, Utah, Platteville, Wis., Buies Creek, N.C., and, of course, Itta Bena, Miss., placed ahead of Princess Anne. Baltimore/Washington came in as a tandem and placed 10th. Other Maryland locations got a mention: Annapolis in 119th position; Emmitsburg, 193rd; Westminster, 230th; Frostburg, 241st.
In keeping with figures, Princess Anne is 266 years old. It has to be grand and even illustrious to have survived in all its glory for so long. The good name of Princess Anne deserves to be defended. The governor should convene the state legislature in emergency session to right such a dreadful wrong.
The Sporting News' rankings of the best and "least best" sports towns in the country:
Top 10 ...
3. Dallas-Fort Worth
7. New York
8. Miami-Fort Lauderdale
9. San Fran.-Oakland-San Jose
... and bottom 10
261. Portland, Maine
262. West Long Branch, N.J.
263. Dover, Del.
264. Hammond, La.
265. Daytona Beach, Fla.
266. Conway, S.C.
267. Itta Bena, Miss.
268. Statesboro, Ga.
269. Pine Bluff, Ark.
270. Princess Anne
Pub Date: 7/05/98