A Look Back at 20 Years with OurSports Central
by Fran Stuchbury
February 3, 2021 - National Women's Soccer League (NWSL)
It's been 20 years since I started writing for OurSports Central. With so much of sports stalled for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the break presented an opportune time to look back on two decades of covering minor and independent league sports on OSC.
My first article appeared on February 2, 2001, a preview of the XFL's inaugural season. Over the past 20 years, I have covered 12 championships for OurSports Central in football, soccer, tennis and lacrosse. I have conducted 97 interviews as well at games, championships and various media events.
Several moments stood out in my memory, but the following ten are special ones.
10. July 2019 - Covering a Coastal Plain League Holly Springs Salamanders game.
College players are able to play in this wood-bat league and still keep their college eligibility. The Salamanders have a mascot named Sal the Salamander. I ended up staying at the game through two lighting delays. During the delays I noticed a black lab that was retrieving bats named Ripken. I spoke to his owner Michael O'Donnell who is the owner of 'Sit Means Sit' in Apex. He trained Ripken how to retrieve bats.
Ripken has a Facebook page and ended up sharing the story I published on it.
Here's a video about how popular Ripken is with the Holly Springs Salamanders fans:
Ripken was going be a bat dog for the Durham Bulls game in 2020 but that didn't happen due to COVID-19 cancelling the season. When the Durham Bulls season begins in 2021 Bulls fans will love Ripken, especially children.
9. November 27, 2010 - United Football League Championship at Omaha, Nebraska.
Spending Thanksgiving that year in Omaha and covering the United Football League Championship the following day was enjoyable. It was the last sports event ever held in Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium which was the home of the Omaha Nighthawks and the College World Series. I enjoyed having time to talk to Florida Tuskers head coach Jay Gruden, someone I had previoulsy covered when he played and coached in Arena Football. Gruden went on to be the head coach of Washington in the NFL for over five seasons. I was also able to talk briefly with 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie who was the UFL color analyst for Versus (now NBC Sports Network).
Here are the highlights of the UFL Championship with the Las Vegas Locomotives defeating the Florida Tuskers 23-20.
Sarah Thomas officiated UFL games that season including the championship. In 2015 she became the first permanent female official in the NFL. Thomas will be the first ever woman to be an official in this year's Super Bowl.
8. November 25, 2001 - 89th CFL Grey Cup at Montreal, Canada.
I made a three and a half hour drive from upstate New York to Montreal to cover the game with a friend. Over 65,000 fans turned out at Olympic Stadiumformer home of the Alouettes and Expos. Fans from all the CFL teams were at the game including some from the Baltimore Stallions, a team which played in the CFL in 1994 and 1995. The place was loud and the energy with the fans was an experience I will never forget. Montreal was a beautiful city to visit.
The Calgary Stampeders won the Grey Cup by defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 27-19. Here are the highlights.
7. Alliance of American Football 2019 season.
When the Alliance of American Football season started I wrote a weekly column for OurSports Central and chose Players of the Week. I introduced a fun award, the Unsung hero, a key player in the game who helped a team win. I was also a weekly guest on the podcast "AAF: After Further Review" by Dean Jackson.
The league had money troubles though it seemed to find stability for a time after Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon invested in the league.
Living in Raleigh I was excited by the possibility that if the AAF played a second season there was a very good chance a team would come to the city and would play at Carter Finley Stadium, home of the NC State Wolfpack.
I had purchased a plane ticket to Dallas to cover the AAF Championship that was going be held in Frisco, Texas on April 27th.
Unfortunately, Dundon pulled the plug on AAF on April 2nd, eight weeks into the season, and ended up filing chapter 7 bankruptcy on April 17th.
I enjoyed covering the AAF and got a message from someone who worked in the AAF saying, "I want to reach out to you and let you know that I have enjoyed your posts throughout the launch of The Alliance...our Season...and our unfortunate Shutdown. You approached your posts with passion and honesty, which provided interesting insight to your followers. I appreciate your fandom."
The AAF ended up being a dress rehearsal for the XFL coverage I provided the following season. And the plane ticket I was going to use to cover the Alliance Championship? I ended up using it to fly to Dallas to cover a Dallas Renegades game.
Here was one of my favorite highlights of the AAF season. San Diego Fleet Quarterback Mike Bercovici received a massive hit in the opening night of the AAF season.
6. October 27, 2019 - National Women's Soccer League Championship.
After I moved to Raleigh I received a pleasant surprise in 2017 when Steve Malik purchased the NWSL's Western New York Flash and moved them to Cary, North Carolina, where they became the North Carolina Courage.
In 2018 I started covering Courage games for OurSports Central. In 2019, the NWSL awarded them the NWSL Championship and the Courage earned a spot in the game.
It was the second championship I covered for OurSports Central close to where I lived. Back in 2003 I covered the Major League Lacrosse Championship at Villanova.
The North Carolina Courage won its second straight National Women's Soccer League Championship, defeating the Chicago Red Stars 4-0 in front of a record crowd of 10,277 fans, the most in WakeMed Soccer Park history.
Here are the highlights:
Debinha, Jessica McDonald, Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis all scored in the North Carolina Courage victory. It was an amazing experience to see a team I covered all season dominate to win a championship at home in front of its fans.
5. November 2017 - Interview with Philadelphia Soul Majority Owner Jon Bon Jovi.
At a press conference that introduced the Philadelphia Soul's newest acquisition wide receiver Chris Jackson, I was able to interview Philadelphia Soul majority owner Jon Bon Jovi. The international superstar had brought Arena Football to Philadelphia in 2004, and I was happy to get an opportunity to talk to him.
My favorite moment of the interview was when I asked Bon Jovi if he felt games that were played at the Spectrum gave the Soul an advantage. His response, "They're good, they're at the good 'ol sweaty spectrum that I went to as a kid, so I like it."
At the other side of the restaurant I noticed the Major Indoor Soccer League's Philadelphia KiXX were holding a season ticket party. So I put myself on the spot and interviewed KiXX President of Internal Operations David Deal.
4. July 27, 2008 - Covering ArenaBowl XXII in New Orleans.
It was the fourth ArenaBowl I covered for OurSports Central. The three others I covered were held at Tampa Bay, Phoenix and Las Vegas. New Orleans was a lot of fun, and I completed two interviews at radio row with league founder Jim Foster and Commissioner David Baker. One evening I was walking up and down Bourbon Street with Arena Football fans from across the country.
I was happy to have the Philadelphia Soul, a team I covered for five seasons, in the Championship against the San Jose SaberCats. The Soul won the ArenaBowl with a 59-56 victory over the SaberCats in front of 17,244 fans.
After the season the AFL filed for bankruptcy and cancelled its 2009 season. Arena Football came back in 2010 on a smaller scale until it ceased operations after the 2019 season.
3. July 2015 - Interview with World TeamTennis Co-Founder and and Philadelphia Freedoms Owner Billie Jean King.
Though not as well known as other leagues, I found World TeamTennis a lot of fun to cover. My good friend, Philadelphia Freedoms Master of Ceremonies Dave Leno, encouraged me to get an interview with Billie Jean King saying it would be a rewarding experience. Her publicist liked my WTT coverage on OurSports Central and set up my interview with her. So I sat at the Philadelphia Freedoms bench and spoke to Bille Jean King.
She won 39 Grand Slam titles and helped women's tennis players earn more money. She had so many fun stories to tell me during the interview. As an iconic figure in the sports world, Ms. King was was the biggest interview I conducted while writing for OurSports Central and it was a wonderful experience.
2. February & March 2020 - Covering XFL games in Washington, DC and Dallas.
When the XFL folded after the 2001 season, I never thought I would get to cover the league again. To everyone's surprise, Vince McMahon decided to bring it back in 2020. Back in 2001 I saw no XFL games in person. This time I quickly made plans to see games in person. I was happy to revive the name I used for my column, "Inside the XFL," I used during the 2001 season. In February I traveled to Washington, DC, to watch the New York Guardians play the DC Defenders with a friend, Nation Hahn, who read every XFL story I published back in 2001 when he was only 14. It was cold in DC with game time temperatures at 30 degrees. The DC Defenders dominated the New York Guardians 27-0. It was the first time a DC football team shutout the opposition since 1991.
Three weeks later I flew to Dallas to see the Guardians play the Dallas Renegades. This time I opted to get a press pass and sat in the press box at Globe Life Park. The Guardians defeated the the Renegades 30-12.
Just a week after that game the remainder of XFL season was canceled due to COVID-19. I was happy I was able to get two fun road trips to see XFL games in person before the sports world shut down.
The XFL will be coming back in 2022 under the ownership of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital.
1. Sunday August 2, 2015 - Seeing the Washington Kastles win a record fifth straight WTT Championship.
I traveled to Washington to cover the championship, and the day before the match I received an invitation from the Washington Kastles to attend the WTT Finals Celebration. I jumped at the opportunity, and I was the only member of the media at the event. I made the most of it by talking to a lot of people.
The Washington Kastles won the King Trophy for a record fifth straight time, defeating the Austin Aces 24-18. Here are the highlights:
After a rough patch in my life, I was looking to get back to sports media work and covering WTT that season for OurSports Central kept me busy at the perfect time. I covered six Philadelphia Freedoms matches, a playoff semifinal and the championship in DC. I ended up writing nine stories with seven of them being interviews. Covering World TeamTennis that season helped get my life back on track. Two Philadelphia Freedoms magnets remain on my refrigerator to remind me of that experience.
Honorable Mention. Weekly Last Week around the Leagues - started December 19, 2018.
Paul Reeths recommended I compile a weekly column with news and videos on leagues we cover on OurSports Central. I liked the suggestion so I wrote my first "Last Week around the Leagues" column over two years ago.
Finding news, lead stories and videos helps me keep up with the hundreds of teams on OSC. Teddy bear toss videos from hockey teams in the US and Canada are always fun, and football leagues such as the CFL and XFL supply some great plays. If you're looking for all the highlights from the leagues here on OSC, check out my column weekly!
Images from this story
NWSL Championship Trophy
Fran Stuchbury at a DC Defenders game
Fran Stuchbury with Sal the Salamander
The North Carolina Courage celebrate the 2019 NWSL title
The Dallas Renegades battle the New York Guardians in an XFL game
Fran Stuchbury and Billy Jean King
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- A Look Back at 20 Years with OurSports Central - OSC Original by Fran Stuchbury
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.