SPORTS TO WATCH
Baton Rouge is the city of champions. When AP Coach of the Year Nick Saban led LSU to the 2004 Sugar Bowl title to notch the school's second national championship, the Tigers officially placed the letters L-S-U back at the top of the college football world. Meanwhile, the Southern University Jaguars were finishing off a sparkling 12-1 season under Head Coach Pete Richardson that included the SWAC championship, a victory over archrival Grambling in the Bayou Classic and the national black college championship. The season of big wins only continued a long tradition of big sports in Baton Rouge--where more than 90,000 fans routinely pack the nation's fifth-largest college stadium for LSU football, where the LSU baseball team has won five national championships since 1990, and where LSU track and field teams have won 23 indoor and outdoor national titles since 1986 under the guidance of Head Coach Pat Henry.
In fact, the LSU women's track team won 11 consecutive NCAA Outdoor Championships between 1990 and 2000, a streak that still stands as the longest winning streak in the history of NCAA women's athletics. And Southern University's baseball team also has risen to national prominence under the guidance of Head Coach Roger Cador, appearing last year in the NCAA tournament and compiling one of the best win-loss records in the nation, going 31-1 in SWAC play and 47-7 overall. Second baseman Rickie Weeks was named Baseball America's Player of the Year and became the second pick taken in the 2003 Major League draft.
SPORTS FOR ALL
LSU and Southern were joined by Baton Rouge itself as champions this year. Sports Illustrated named the city as Louisiana's top "Sportstown" and indicated it has few peers across the nation as a place to play, learn and compete in sports. One reason for the honor was the work of BREC, a nationally recognized parks and recreation commission that runs a variety of community sports programs for all ages. Accomplished athletes such as Warrick Dunn of the Atlanta Falcons and LSU's Marcus Spears and Michael Clayton got their start playing BREC football. BREC runs community leagues in football, baseball, softball, volleyball and both men's and women's basketball, encompassing both youth and adult play. It also operates public facilities for tennis, golf, swimming, cycling, archery, horse riding and BMX racing, with a skate park facility on the drawing board. But it is actually a whole network of local sports organizations--YMCA, CYO, American Legion and others--that produce the active, sporting and competitive lifestyle that people in the Capital Region enjoy.
An extensive YMCA system is at the center of both the lifestyle and the sense of community of many residents, offering swimming, weightrooms, fitness facilities and a variety of activities--from karate to racquetball to spinning. And the state-of-the-art Lamar Tennis Center at the Paula G. Manship YMCA opened in December 2003, adding a new dimension to the tennis scene in Baton Rouge. The facility features 20 world-class courts that will be open to all Y members, but it will also enhance the Y's junior tennis program and, in just its first year, will host tournaments bringing hundreds of visiting players to Baton Rouge. And in a nation where recreational soccer has become one of the most popular games in town, Baton Rouge has not only a thriving YMCA youth soccer program but also the oldest community soccer association in Louisiana. Started in 1975, the Baton Rouge Soccer Association is 3,700 members strong and has been joined by growing soccer organizations in Livingston, Ascension, East Feliciana and West Feliciana parishes. These associations cater to players of all skills and ages and provide coaches, camps and clinics to help them improve.
Another national champion produced by LSU is golf professional David Toms, a former PGA champion who remains fiercely loyal to LSU and its sports programs. Toms also has added his name to the growing reputation of golf facilities in the Capital Region, joining the ranks of other pros who have designed championship-caliber courses here. With the late 2003 opening of Carter Plantation, a 7,000-yard, par-72 Toms signature course, Toms joins Jack Nicklaus, who designed the Country Club of Louisiana layout, and Arnold Palmer, who designed the popular resort course at The Bluffs near St. Francisville, as golf champions who have put their signatures on the Capital Region landscape. Carter Plantation winds through the live oak flats and cypress wetlands of eastern Livingston Parish. The daily fee course also has been named to the state of Louisiana's Audubon Golf Trail, a network designed to facilitate play and tourism at the state's best public courses, which already included The Bluffs and The Island, a Mike Young design located near Plaquemine in Iberville Parish. In addition to being home to three of the 10 Audubon Trail courses, the Capital Region features a Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout (Santa Maria), 36 holes of British-style golf at Ascension Parish's Pelican Point, and a variety of other public tracks that range from fun to challenging, from urban to scenic and from old to new. Few metropolitan areas anywhere can boast of the addition of three courses in the past five years as fine as Carter Plantation, Beaver Creek (a part of the BREC municipal system), and Copper Mill (an 18-hole links-style course near Zachary).