Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On Vacation

Just a quick note to say I'm on vacation until next week. I'll update when I return.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pride in the Northside

Real Northsiders believe that the best pizza in the world comes from the Golden Dawn, Avalon Gardens, or the St. Anthony's nuns (in any order). Real Northsiders have mailed letters from the North Side Post Office. Real Northsiders are accused by their friends of being too stubborn. While everybody else was at Rocky Ridge, Real Northsiders were sled riding at Crandall Park. Real Northsiders learned Spanish from the street names in their neighborhood. Real Northsiders love Youngstown but get lost in Mill Creek Park. Real Northsiders think "the Old Course" is Stambaugh on Gypsy Lane. While the West Siders know a hundred different back roads to get you somewhere, Real Northsiders will take the freeway whenever possible. Real Northsiders are pissed that the MVR is a Mooney bar. Real Northsiders think Catholicism and Judaism are the only two world religions. Real Northsiders shop at the Union Square Sparkle because the Giant Eagle a mile away is too far. Real Northsiders appreciate the grassy medians on Fifth Avenue and dream of one day living in one of "them mansions." Real Northsiders hate that you have to go "way out to Boardman" for so many goods and services. Real Northsiders have attended a sporting event at Rayen Stadium. Real Northsiders have been treated at both Northside and St. E's. Real Northsiders had their first communion parties at the Wick Park or Crandall Park pavilions. Real Northsiders believe the 711 connector is the single greatest achievement of modern man. Real Northsiders drink their beer in schooners.

Real Northsiders, although a dying breed, are one-of-a-kind.

Feel free to leave your additions in the comments section below.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The "Youngstown" Vindicator

Phil Kidd has an excellent post up over at Defend Youngstown discussing the continued lack cooperation between some residents of the suburbs and the City of Youngstown. He provides a response to what can best be described as an "anti-Youngstown" letter to the editor from a rather unenlightened Boardman resident that appeared recently in the Vindicator. Kidd drafted a nice response which was, of course, never published by the paper.

I'll leave the issue at the heart of the discussion to Kidd for now. However, I'd like to move tangentially from his post to talk a little about the Vindicator and its role in all of this. It's of little surprise to me that the Vindicator didn't publish Kidd's response. Sure, a paper certainly can't publish every letter to the editor that they receive, and decisions have to be made with a number of things in mind. However, Kidd's opinions and his approach to issues in Youngstown stands almost in direct opposition to the Vindicator's agenda.

When I was younger, the city paper was called "The Youngstown Vindicator," its title proudly written across the top in Gothic lettering. It had a stately look, a very New York Times-esque look, and it felt like a legitimate newspaper. However, one day, the paper decided to do a complete overhaul, losing the dignified look and replacing it with a more colorful, perhaps "friendly" image that was apparently meant to be more appealing to the public. I'll leave the aesthetics alone. What was most important about the change, though, was that the heading on the top of the paper now read "The Vindicator" rather than "The Youngstown Vindicator." Although that may seem like a small change, it was reflective of a much larger philosophical shift which continues into the present day.

I understand that population shifts in the Valley have required local media outlets to have a more regional focus. I imagine that a great number of Vindicator subscribers live outside the city limits, and therefore have an interest in news that occurs outside the city. That's fine. However, the Vindicator tries to avoid the fact that Youngstown is the center of the Mahoning Valley and that all of the local suburbs are just that- suburbs- whose very existence is tied to that of the city. At its best, the paper treats Youngstown as just another town in their coverage area- on the same level with Niles, Hermitage, or Austintown. At its worst, the paper takes a condescending and isolationist stance toward the city in its reporting- here's what's happening in that awful place up the road. Major positive events in the city are often ignored entirely, while the newspaper chooses instead to run a front-page photo of some meaningless happening in Boardman Park or at the Poland Library. Sports coverage is even worse- one could read the paper for an entire football season and not realize that Rayen or Chaney even exist.

Oddly, the Vindicator still holds its central offices in downtown Youngstown. I imagine it's only a matter of time before the paper finally gives up the ruse and moves out to 224. In the meantime, though, the Vindicator continues to feed into the "suburbs vs. city" mentality that's been crippling this region for decades. As the only real paper in town, the Vindicator has a powerful influence on the perceptions and attitudes of its readership, and they have not handled this responsibility well.
What's encouraging, though, is that people are actively seeking out other avenues and outlets for news and updates about the city and the area- most of which are much more, to borrow a phrase, "Pro-Yo." Look down the list of links to the right here. These other sites, professional or not, would not exist if the desire to create and read them wasn't there.

The Vindicator has a long history with the city, and has been there for many years to report on and record the events of the area. However, when it comes to its relationship to Youngstown, the paper behaves more like a jaded child than a loving spouse. Such a negative relationship does little good for either party. As things change and move forward in Youngstown, there's little place for something like the Vindicator.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Curse of Youngstown Sports

With the Cavaliers having been swept in the Finals last night, a lot of the talk up here has been about the so-called "Cleveland Curse" that has plagued the different franchises in the city. The Drive, the Fumble, Jose Mesa, MJ over Ehlo, and now, the Sweep, are all familiar phrases to Cleveland sports fans.

There are, of course, a lot of Cleveland fans in Youngstown, and they have suffered through these same events. Life has been a little rosier for the Pittsburgh fans in town, which has certainly added some fuel to the rivalry. Youngstown is pretty much on a "fault line" when it comes to Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh sports, and that always keeps it interesting.

Anyway, this whole Cleveland Curse thing got me thinking about our own teams in Youngstown and the existence of a possible "Youngstown Curse" on our own teams. Granted, Youngstown doesn't have any major professional franchises and nor have we struggled as a unified fanbase with the heartbreak and the near-misses that the Clevelanders have. Our curse is not with losing per se, but with losing our teams.

The whole thing starts with the Youngstown Patricians, a semi-pro team in the early 1900s that competed against more well-known teams like the Canton Bulldogs. The Patricians took their name from St. Patrick's Church on the South Side, which had a big part in the founding of the organization. The Patricians, although apparently a good team, eventually disbanded. That, of course, is not unusual, given how many of the teams back then were organized and run. However, the success of the Patricians may have played an important role in the granting of an NFL franchise to Youngstown in 1922. For whatever reason, though, the team never actually saw the field- thus beginning the Youngstown Sports Curse.

Most of what I've found on the Patricians, by the way, comes from here.

The failure of Youngstown's NFL franchise set the stage for more heartbreak. The Youngstown Hardhats, a semi-professional football team, played a few successful seasons in the 70s before eventually disbanding. Of course, the most representative instance is that of the Youngstown Pride, the basketball powerhouse and WBL member that was the brainchild of Mickey Monus and the Phar-Mor company. That, of course, did not end well. In typical Youngstown fashion, corruption reared its head and doomed both the franchise and the league (and Phar-Mor, too).

Since then, there have been a number of failed sports ventures in town, including the Youngstown Hawks basketball team, which played their games at the old South High field house. Although it was hard enough to draw a crowd to that location because of safety concerns, the Hawks also scheduled the majority of their games on Friday nights, up against the local high school games. With high school sports being king in the Yo, it was a recipe for disaster.

Shortly afterward, the Mahoning Valley/Youngstown Wildcats were formed and played a season or two in Struthers before abruptly disappearing from the face of the earth. In similar fashion, the Mahoning Valley Panthers (aka "MVPs") of the Ohio Valley Football League were formed in 2005- and haven't updated their website since.

One can make the argument that professional sports in Youngstown are, right now, at their apex. There are three legitimate franchises in the area right now- the af2 Mahoning Valley Thunder, the Youngstown SteelHounds, and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. In addition, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the NAHL are a thriving organization. The Thunder are in their inaugural season, the SteelHounds are coming off their second year (and a playoff season), and the Scrappers are only a couple of years removed from an NYPL championship and boast both C.C. Sabathia and Victor Martinez as alumni.

Still, though, there's pessimism about each team. A lot of people are worried that the Thunder will be a hard sell, given the high ticket prices and relatively small size of the market. The SteelHounds' future is a big question mark at this point (see below) and hockey has yet to really catch on in the area. The Scrappers, although a good team, haven't been attracting the crowds that they used to. It's hard to say if these concerns are valid- just how much of it is based on natural Youngstown pessimism and the fallout from the Youngstown Pride disaster is hard to quantify.

Obviously, I'm hoping for continued success from all of these teams. It's important for the area, as a united entity, to have teams to root for and identify with. Obviously, YSU will always fill that role, especially during football season. However, having organized, professional teams helps give the area that added sense of legitimacy and value- we're big enough, important enough, etc., to have pro sports. Maybe these teams will stick it out, survive, and bring some more pride to the area. It's possible that the "curse" is over, and that our ability to have sports teams will experience the same type of revival that much of the rest of the area is starting to experience. Unfortunately, we can only wait.

SteelHounds' CHL Future in Question

Although this is more a topic for Youngstown Sports Live, I thought I'd mention it anyway...

According to a report in the Vindicator last week, the Youngstown SteelHounds are considering leaving the Central Hockey League, where they've played since their inaugural season, to seek out new opportunities elsewhere. Apparently, there are a number of issues involved in owner Herb Washington's decision to look to other leagues, not the least of which is the amount of travel expenses that the Hounds rack up every season traveling all over the Southwest. As you may know, the majority of the CHL teams are located in that region, and Youngstown is the only team in the Northeast. The next-closest team to Youngstown is in Memphis, TN. According to Washington, the CHL brass promised him, upon the SteelHounds initial entry into the league, that they would expand up into the Northeast, adding teams closer to Youngstown and perhaps realigning in order to lessen the amount of travel. The league has expanded- into places like Colorado and New Mexico- and the Hounds are still thousands of miles away from everybody else.

As I've written here before, the CHL does seem to be a pretty stable league, and that can be rare in minor league sports. Sacrificing that apparent stability, though, might be necessary if the SteelHounds want to remain in business. In addition to travel expenses, Youngstown doesn't have any natural rivalries, and it's nearly impossible to follow the team on the road. When they are home, it's hard to get excited about a weekend series with a team from Bossier-Shreveport or "the Rocky Mountains." The distance between the Chevy Centre and the bulk of the other teams also requires some scheduling weirdness where the team disappears for long periods of time and effectively drops off the radar for anyone who's not a die-hard fan (or doesn't drink at the Draught House).

The Vindicator article goes on to point out that the CHL, understandably, has little interest in allowing Washington and the SteelHounds out of their contract and out of the league. There may be a long and costly fight ahead, which could be financially damaging as well. Hopefully, things work out, and the SteelHounds remain a presence in the city and in a legitimate hockey league. People around Youngstown need to know that the team has a solid future before they invest in season tickets, jerseys, and so on. Attendance seems to have dropped quite a bit in the last year, and any bad news about the team's future could create even more problems. I'm optimistic, though, that Washington will find a way for hockey to survive in the city.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Weekend in Review

As those of you who were in town over the weekend know, the Youngstown area experienced a pretty severe storm on Friday evening. The storm knocked down trees and power lines all over the area and damaged a number of homes, cars, and other property.

We were getting prepared to leave from Cleveland to go down to Youngstown about 4 o'clock on Friday when I first heard about the storm. There was severe weather all over Northeast Ohio, so the local Cleveland news, including WKYC, broke into their normal programming to track the storms around Akron, Canton, and Youngstown. The weather around Austintown and Youngstown's North Side was by far the most severe and was the focus of the broadcast. Things were so bad, apparently, that the weatherperson actually encouraged viewers to call their friends and family in the Youngstown area and tell them to get inside and into their basements. I called my own parents, who live on the North Side, and they were already downstairs. It was actually sort of entertaining to hear the forecaster refer to some specific and uniquely Youngstown places that were popping up on the computer system- she'd obviously never heard of Brier Hill, McGuffey Center- and I doubt most of the viewers had, either.

The storm moved quickly enough that we were able to leave Cleveland before 5 and take the turnpike to Youngstown. Part of Route 11 was blocked off because of a downed tree, so we got off at 46 and went through Austintown. This gave us a chance to check out some of the damage, since by then, the storm had already passed. Austintown was pretty bad, with a ton of debris in the roads and obvious damage to yards, trees, and property. Going through the West Side near Mill Creek Park, things were even worse, with trees uprooted in almost every yard and large amounts of debris in the streets. The North Side was slightly better, but going up Fifth Avenue past Wick Park, there were a number of large, obviously old trees ripped right out of the ground. Although it may sound a little silly, it always bums me out when old trees are lost to storms, especially on the North Side. Those trees are some of the last remaining symbols of the "majesty" of the old North Side.

The fallout from the storm lasted all weekend, with trees being chopped up and removed, power being restored, and other projects being done to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, the power was out at Mill Creek Park for the entire weekend, which led to a number of graduation parties and other events that were supposed to be held at the Rose Garden complex and other spots being canceled or moved elsewhere.

I attended one such graduation party on Sunday, which was moved from the park to Overture- the new restaurant attached to the DeYor Center. Although I had been to Powers since the restaurant went up, it was the first time I'd been inside. It's a nice venue. I was particularly impressed with the outdoor section, which faces the Home Savings building. The weather on Sunday was great, and it gave people the opportunity to hang around outside and even walk around downtown.

I've heard a lot of stories from friends and family about how downtown Youngstown used to be something really special. Being down there on Sunday afternoon, I had a chance to sort of imagine what that might have been like. It's been a while since I was able to walk around downtown in broad daylight, too. The daylight, of course, is particularly harsh on Youngstown, since you can see every crack in the sidewalk, every broken window, and every abandoned building. However, it was the first time in as long as I can remember that I felt really optimistic as I walked around there- I could point to a lot of the buildings- the State Theatre, the Paramount, the Realty Building- and know there was a legitimate plan in store for restoration or improvement. Plus, those buildings that are new- the courthouses, the Voinovich building- look great. Granted, I'm much more "Pro-Yo" than most, but I couldn't help but feel really good about downtown in the daytime (which is admittedly very different from downtown at night, which has already made some great strides.) If you don't share my optimism, I can understand- we've certainly been let down in the past- but honestly, things are really looking good down there.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

An Eventful Day at Stambaugh

Yesterday, Stambaugh Auditorium hosted the graduation ceremonies for the city's two Catholic high schools, Cardinal Mooney and Ursuline, as it does each year. Graduation ceremonies are, by their nature, exciting events. Two graduations in the same day, of course, makes for an eventful day. However, even after the final graduate walked across the stage yesterday afternoon, the excitement at Stambaugh was just beginning. Apparently, an evening storm caused a section of the auditorium's roof to blow off into the street. Although there is not much information available at the moment, I'm pretty confident that the Youngstown Pride website will have more information sometime tomorrow.

Stambaugh Auditorium has been an important part of the city and a Northside landmark since its opening in 1926. Will Rogers, believe it or not, was the first act to perform there and the auditorium still hosts a number of events and concerts every year. I was lucky enough myself to see Bruce Springsteen perform there during his "Ghost of Tom Joad" tour.

Maintaining a building like Stambaugh is both costly and time-consuming, and as a result, a lot of similar structures have been abandoned or demolished. Detroit, for example, is home to a number of once-great buildings from the same time period which have been left to crumble and decay (This site has an excellent photo tour of what can sometimes seem like Youngstown's sister city up north). Organizations like the Stambaugh Pillars have been an integral part of the building's longevity, and now, unfortunately, they have a new challenge on their hands. Damage to any structure's roof can be a major setback. Hopefully, the roof issue can be resolved soon.

Update: Canfield Wins

The Canfield Cardinals beat Springfield Kenton Ridge yesterday afternoon to earn the State Championship in Division II. Although their title run was not without controversy, the Cardinals put together an impressive run and Mighty Mahoning congratulates them on their success.

Ursuline, the area's other state semifinalist and the only city team to advance that far, was eliminated on Friday.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Ursuline and Canfield Advance to State Baseball Semis

Two local teams remain in the OHSAA baseball tournament in Columbus- Canfield in Division II, and Ursuline in Division III.

The Canfield Cardinals play this morning and, should they win, will advance to the State Championship game to be played tomorrow, June 2, at 2pm at Cooper Stadium. The Ursuline Fighting Irish take the field today as well, and a victory will put them into the State Championship at 5pm tomorrow.

A win tomorrow would earn the Irish baseball program its third State Championship.