2016 was a year of highs and lows. Internationally, we saw vitriol and atrocity, but we also saw nations come together in Rio for the love of sport and competition. The U.S. election illuminated domestic discord, but we have also seen everyday citizens forge ahead, mindless of the cynicism around them.
Here then are my personal picks for the best in local recreation in 2016 – coaches, athletes, and citizens who illuminate a brighter path.
Sadly, 2016 saw the loss of local runner and inspiration Greg Sousa, who died July 14 at age 47 after a four-year battle with brain cancer.
Never miss a local story.
A Carolina Godiva Track Club member along with his family for about 10 years, Greg was honored as Godiva’s Runner of the Year in 2014. In his memory, Godiva has renamed its Winter Series for Sousa.
My nod for “Best Newcomer” in 2016 goes to the Tennis & Toss fundraiser Oct. 1 at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club. Having endured the unthinkable loss of a child and founding Compassionate Passages in 2001 (www.compassionatepassages.com), longtime local Beth Seyda founded the fun-filled, family-friendly event to raise money for her concern.
Seyda’s organization strives to connect families who share the grief of a similar child’s illness (or) loss so that wisdom is shared.
Broom with a view
2016’s “Best Kept Secret” award goes to broomball, a fun alternative to hockey on the rink at the Orange County Sportsplex in Hillsborough. Players wear spongy-soled or athletic shoes instead of skates and wield a broom-shaped implement to move a ball up and down the ice and score goals.
SportsPlex assistant general manager Andrew Stock said that the activity was great for business team-building or for college groups.
An “Honorable Mention” goes to Kite Day, a festival of fresh air and color sponsored each spring by Carrboro Recreation and Parks at Anderson Park.
A new leach on life
The 2016 “Lifetime Achievement” award goes to Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation supervisor Bernard Leach, 55, who retired from the agency for greener athletic fields after serving the community for 26 years.
Leach was both loved and respected by all who knew and worked with him, and his absence will be felt in Chapel Hill.
“Bernard’s always been a really great friend, both at work and outside of work,” Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation administrative coordinator Lisa Baaske said. “I just hope he saves me a chapter in his book when he writes it.”
“Best Team Effort” goes to the UNC Darkside, returning to prominence just a year after a National D1 College Ultimate Frisbee Championship in 2015. Then again, some teams rebuild while others reload.
The 2016 squad of earned a spot right back in the thick of contention for another title and competed at the national tournament just down the road in Raleigh. With only four seniors graduating, the future looks bright for the Darkside in years to come as well.
“Best Male Performance” goes to Carrboro Recreation and Parks’ Shayne McKinley. McKinley has instilled a love of fishing in hundreds of young anglers and their parents over the years through catch-and-release clinics and camps.
Maria Finnegan is my choice for “Best Female Performance” and a true “stand-up” individual. Seeding the local wave in popularity of stand-up paddleboard yoga, Finnegan and her instruction partner Jen Cox have offered sessions in pools or local lakes. On the water or off, Finnegan constantly endeavors to inspire those around her to be happier and better fit.
Start your engines
Finally, my vote for “Event of the Year” goes to Bull City Running’s annual Occoneechee Speedway Relay Race in Hillsborough, offering competition for two and four-person teams tallying 20 laps (roughly 13.5 miles) around the historic track.
Proceeds benefitted the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust.
The event even boasted a flag wave from the starter’s stand, and fans lined the track like pit crews.
An honorable mention goes to Chapel Hill Park and Rec’s Halloween-themed Trunk or Treat event and Dive-in Movie at the Chapel Hill Aquatic Center.