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From Peaches to putters
Women's baseball, golf put SI Sportstown Rockford on the sports map
By Andrew Schulman
Long before Sports Illustrated began honoring Sportstowns in each state -- and prior even to the magazine's birth in 1954 -- the City of Rockford, Ill., was sports hotbed.
Remember the Rockford Peaches?
As one of the anchor teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League -- which operated from 1943-1954 -- the Peaches won four league championships and were the centerpiece of the 1992 film A League of Their Own. They also helped put Rockford on the sports map.
Today the city has a thriving amateur, recreational and professional sports scene that has earned it the title of SI Sportstown for the state of Illinois.
While Rockford offers its residents a variety of sports and recreation opportunities, any discussion about the city’s sports must begin with golf. With a population of approximately 200,000, Rockford has more than 25 public and eight private golf courses in its metro area, serving a diverse group of golfers from all social, economic and ethnic backgrounds.
“It may seem like an anomaly, but we love playing golf,” said Karen Weis, Senior Manager of Marketing and Community Relations for the Rockford Park District, which oversees the city’s parks, public golf courses and much of its recreation programming. “We have a tradition of people from all walks of life playing golf, and that has helped make Rockford a great place to play for residents and visitors alike.”
Indeed, Rockford was ranked first on Golf Digest’s Places to Play list in 1998, 1999 and 2000, and the city’s Aldeen Golf Club & Practice Center has become a destination for regional and national events, hosting the Illinois State Amateur Golf Tournament and the Tiger Woods Junior Golf Clinic in 2001. It will welcome the Tiger Woods In the City Golf Clinic and Festival later this year.
In addition to its golf courses, Rockford’s other facilities have made it what many consider the "Amateur Sports Capital" of the Midwest, and the Rockford Park District works in concert with the area’s Convention and Visitors Bureau to help attract more than 100 sports tournaments each year, from softball and soccer to archery and water skiing. In 2002 regional and national sports tournaments generated $14.8 million for the city’s economy.
“Coaches and athletes who come here for tournaments or competitions always have an enjoyable experience,” said Weis. “And these tournaments are also extremely beneficial to the city.”
In addition to the District’s work with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, it partners with many other community organizations in developing an extensive array of recreation programming for the city’s residents.
“Recreational sports in Rockford are more of a cooperative effort and less of a competitive one,” said Weis. “We and our partners all want to put the best out there for the community, and that is our total focus.”
With the current focus on the community, coupled with a storied past and bright future, Rockford’s sporting endeavors have truly earned it the title of Sports Illustrated Sportstown.