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State's best community for amateur sports? SI and we agree: Howard

HOWARD COUNTY constitutes Maryland's best community for amateur sports.

So says Sports Illustrated magazine, which as part of its, frankly, over-hyped 50th anniversary is bestowing such an honor in each of the 50 states in the coming year.

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"We want to recognize communities that allow sports to flourish," Martin C. Crawford, an SI account manager told a gathering of county sports leaders Wednesday.

Whatever credibility you assign this award, it is more fun to receive than to be ignored, to be sure. And the county was picked by the magazine with a big assist in the screening of applicants going to the National Association of Parks and Recreation, in which Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks administrators are active.

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Of course, lost in the feel-good couple of hours Wednesday were the realities of budget crunching that steadily has shrunk public recreation spending here and the underlying contention over fields, maintenance and lack of planning for more facilities.

Still, SI's judgment took note of all the sports in which Howard countians are involved and the numbers of people who take part in programs run by more than 30 mostly volunteer sports organizations.

Add to that all the regional and national titles that county teams and individuals have posted in recent years, and who is to debate the point?

Rec and parks Director Gary J. Arthur told the rare gathering of representatives of most county sports groups that his agency was invited to lunch at Timbers at Troy Golf Course to witness the magazine's presentation that countians are involved in 74 sports.

Arthur also calculated that about 62,000 people of all ages took part in county sports programs - "only about 15,000 in rec and parks activities."

If one element of Wednesday's festivities stuck out, though, it came not from the award presenters but from a home-grown athlete.

Ellicott City resident Clint Peay, 30, who may not have the widest-known name but certainly rates as the most championship-bedecked athlete ever to grow up in Howard County, gave something of a keynote talk.

Peay's sport was and is soccer; he is coaching now, girls in Columbia, men at Georgetown University. But Peay began winning championships as a player in the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County and didn't stop until a couple of years ago when a blown-out knee ended his playing years prematurely. By then, he had won two state titles at Oakland Mills High, four NCAA titles at Virginia and three Major League Soccer titles with D.C. United. And he played for the U.S. national Olympic men's team.

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"Sports, to me, is a personal expression of one's creativity," Peay said. "When kids get out there to play, you really see their true selves shine. ... Soccer, for me, always has been something of an art form."

He credited his sport with being a resource from which he and others gain exposure to "other cultures, other countries, other perspectives on how things are done."

And he singled out one facet of sports that many not involved don't grasp, but one that Sports Illustrated understands.

"One of the biggest things about the sports community," Peay said, "is the support group you find. There's no other place where you can duplicate the bringing of community together - the family, friends, coaches, all of this positive reinforcement to get kids going in the right direction."

Along the sidelines

BASEBALL: Bill Ripken, who played for the Orioles and Texas Rangers and is now heavily involved in the growing Ripken family's youth baseball domain, will be the speaker at Wednesday's awards banquet for the 2-year-old Mid-Maryland Travel Association, which was founded and is led by Columbian Dan Scafone.

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More than 650 people are expected to attend the banquet at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville. Every member of the first- and second-place teams in each of MMTA's age-level leagues will walk across the stage for an award. And Scafone promises a bigger, better telescreen show with flashy, digital highlights of the past season.

MMTA, which had about 120 teams in its leagues this summer, will expand again next year, said Scafone.

TENNIS: Marc Schneebaum's 4.5 men's tennis team won sectionals and qualified to compete in U.S. Tennis Association team tennis nationals Oct. 9-12 in Tucson, Ariz.

Who's the most interesting person or team you can think of in fall sports here - youngster or adult? Clue us in. Call the writer at 410-332-6525, or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.


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