It’s almost 2016 and time for renewal, but it’s also a time for retrospection – time to sort through the piles of “Kodak moments.” (Does anyone call them that anymore?)
In local recreation as we assign these, our personal set of “selfies,” to the pages of our 2015 album.
Just for kicks: My vote for the “Best Newcomer” on the recreation scene is FootGolf, as evidenced at 15 North Carolina golf courses, including Hillsborough’s Occoneechee Golf Club, the first and only course in Orange County to adapt portions of its course for play.
Similar to traditional golfers, FootGolfers also drive the soccer balls down an open fairway from tees, kick the balls toward pins, and sink “putts” into 21-inch-diameter holes marked with pins.
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A slice of (hidden) history: From the front porch of the Blackwood Farm homestead off Route 86 in southern Hillsborough, one feels happily lost in time. This past June, Orange County opened the 152-acre site to be shared with the public on June 20, earning my nod for the area’s as-yet “Best Kept Secret.”
Park amenities include a picnic shelter, restrooms, four miles of walking paths and trails, and even a glimpse at the original Hillsborough-Chapel Hill Road, dating back centuries.
“We’ve got the home, a garage, an old milking parlor, a corn crib, a chicken coop, and a building for cold storage,” said Parks Conservation Technician in charge of the Blackwood Farm Park Keith Barnhardt.
A living landmark: Hang around Blackwood Farm or nearby farmland, and you’re likely to run into Bob Strayhorn, who earns my nod for “Lifetime Achievement.”
If it wasn’t enough that Strayhorn, who is descended from original 1700s landowners along New Hope Creek, tended the farm since its purchase by Orange County in 2000 as a labor of love, Strayhorn also founded and maintains an annual Fishing Rodeo, staged at his pond between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.
As chairman of the county’s first recreation board, Strayhorn began the fishing rodeo on his own New Hope Road property in 1978. Children who caught their first fish at one of those early rodeos now bring their children back for the annual event.
Strayhorn said little has changed from year to year over the decades.
“Well, I’m a year older,” he said wryly.
SportsPlex 10th anniversary: My vote for “Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast” goes to the administration at the Orange County SportsPlex. The Sports- Plex recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its successful transition to Orange County’s ownership with a 10-day party, and everyone was invited.
What began with a plaque dedication ceremony and lighting of holiday displays on Dec. 11 continued with Christmas-themed public events and plenty of fun. More importantly, on the heels of renovations last year, the SportsPlex management is continually looking ahead to groundbreaking on a new, 35,000-square-foot field house addition in 2016, featuring multi-sport indoor turf fields, courts, a walking track and more.
Beach boy: My choice for “2015’s Best Male Performer” is Blue Sky Volleyball’s Steve Scanga. From young converts of the conventional indoor game and high school club competitors to adult enthusiasts, sand volleyball’s popularity is on the rise locally, and Scanga is a big reason why. Scanga coordinates play within the Chapel Hill competitive region, which includes club teams, all of which play on the Umstead Park sand courts. Scanga even helped to make the Umstead courts happen by helping to raise $20,000.
Honorable mention goes to “Firefighter Jake” Sinkiewicz, a Chapel Hill Fire Department lieutenant who dons heavy fire gear and participates in local races to bring attention to the “Code 3 for a Cure” cancer fund.
Take a bow (and arrow): This writer’s nod for “Best Female Performer” goes to Cedar Ridge High School science teacher and archer Allison Eaton, who is vying for a spot on the 2016 Olympic Archery Team.
Her performance at the Labor Day “Texas Shootout” last fall earned her berth into the semifinal round of 16 shooting for a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. Points earned in Texas are carried into the second round this coming April, when the field will be narrowed down, first to eight who will compete with the U.S. Archery Team, and then to three (plus one alternate) who make the Olympic Team.
Honorable mentions go to fellow archer Christine Harrelson, who won her first 3D archery National Title event in Illinois in 2015. Also, kudo’s go to stand-up paddleboard (SUP) instructor Maria Finnegan who has brought her brand of “balanced” fitness to SUP yoga and SUP fusion classes at the SportsPlex and Jordan Lake.
The water’s fine: My 2015 winner of “Event of the Year” goes to Chapel Hill Summer Swim League Championships. Dating to 1975, “Champs” is one of the longest-standing recreational sporting events in the Chapel Hill area, annually giving a stage to competition among nearly 1,000 swimmers as young as preschoolers and as old as 18.
“Champs” has become the model of a grassroots community initiative on behalf of young athletes, and it provides a healthy dose of decibels and adrenaline.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the loss felt with the passing of UNC head men’s basketball coach Dean SmithThere is evidence of Dean Smith’s influence where any sport is played. In this way, Dean Smith is never truly taken from us: he’s still coaching us all.