Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Remember back in the 1980s when it seemed like everybody and their mother was playing racquetball? It was as if the pasty white walls of the racquetball court were placing everyone who entered under some mysterious sweat-soaked spell. But the boom went bust. As trendy activities like step aerobics, spinning and kickboxing grew in popularity, racquetball courts went bye-bye. But at the Memorial Athletic Club near Dairy Ashford, the sport is still given its due. Even though the facility has decreased the number of courts from six to three in recent years, the remaining courts always are well maintained, and the club hosts regular clinics, tournaments and parties called Racquetball Socials. It's not uncommon to hear players discussing topics like making effective use of the back wall or how to execute the perfect two-inches-off-the-floor kill shot on a regular basis. While other clubs may have more courts, none caters to the wall-bangin' crowd quite like the MAC.
Of all the gall. Houston goes nuts when Bob McNair lands a pro football team for the area, or when Grand Prix racing adds the city to its circuit. But there's not even a tax subsidy or muted shout ready when Diamond Lanes operator Jimmy Young attracts one of the sports world's most coveted events to the Houston area: the Professional Bowlers Association tour finale (the Lone Star Open runs November 17 to 21). Hand it to the blue-collar citizens of Pasadena. They know their bowling, and they know Diamond's the best. The 32 lanes are kept in flawless condition. There's a pro shop, lessons, enough house balls to suit anybody and the musical lights-out rock-'n'-bowl extravaganza for the teens on Saturday night. Plus, there's the new arrival: a full-service pizza restaurant right on the premises. If Diamond's good enough for the pros, it's definitely the best for the rest of us weekend bowlers.
Not for us the overhyped Guadalupe, with its clear-water views of overboard Revos and its drunk-flotillas gummed together like fire ants in a flash flood. Give us instead the Colorado, a true Texan's Texas river, greenish on a good day, brownish on most, wide, flat, slow and so far blessedly empty of "fellow" humans. The Lower Colorado River Authority publishes recreation-oriented maps of the Colorado from Austin all the way down to the gulf, but the six-mile curve ballooning around Columbus makes for the tidiest day trip, just an hour and a half west of Houston. Frank Howell outfits your crew with enough tubes, canoes and/or kayaks to float a small army and its beer past the shady overhangs, the red bluff cow country, the middle-of-the-stream sand bars and the end-of-the-trip "wall" to the take-out at Beason's Park on State Highway 71. That's where Howell meets you, loads his equipment and ferries you to the put-in. The tube float takes anywhere from three to five hours, depending on the water level, and includes nothing more hazardous than a low-water ripple to disturb the sleepy course, most of which you could walk midstream without wetting a chin. Drinking water and wearing sunscreen are good ideas. Glass bottles are not. On second thought, go to the damn Guadalupe and leave the Colorado quiet, the way we like it.
We know what you're thinking. Mountain biking? In Houston? Well, our famously flat town has its own version: bicycling the bayou. The best-kept mountain-biking secret in town is the Ant Hills, a system of ten-plus miles of trails and paths along Buffalo Bayou from Wilcrest to Highway 6. The prime off-road action follows the gully's southern side from Kirkwood to Eldridge, where it meets up with Terry Hershey Park. The mostly single-track trails of packed dirt and slippery silt twist and turn along the water's edge among thick vines and skinny pines, oaks and catalpas. The trails are intermediate to difficult, but they often split around obstacles, which allows a cyclist to tailor the ride to fit his abilities. A rider also can come up for air at several points to join the walkers, in-line skaters and joggers on the more peaceful system of asphalt pathways above the ravine. No, you won't see any mountains on this ride, but if you're not careful, you could come face-to-face with a more common Bayou City sight: poison ivy.
Six months of the year Meg Henderson is a med student at Baylor College of Medicine. The other six months she lives in Park City, Utah, training for the 2002 Olympics with the national bobsledding team. Meg's sister, Kate, calls her the Dot Richardson of bobsled (Dot took a year off her surgery residency to play softball in the '96 Olympics). Meg was a heptathlete who ran track at the University of Virginia. Working at the '96 Olympic games in Atlanta, she auditioned and made it into one of 11 spots on the bobsledding team. She spent the last two years as a brakeman (the person who sits in back of the two-person sled), but she just switched to being a driver this past year. "It's conquering my fear," she says. "I was scared of driving".There's a lot of consequences. If you mess up, you can cause thousands of dollars of damage " and you can get concussions and break people's backs. It's a lot on your shoulders." Sledding is harder than it looks; it's a rough ride. "It's not as smooth as a roller coaster," she says. "It's like you're in a train wreck the whole way." But the worst part for this Houstonian? She hates being cold.
By now you're probably familiar with the TV promotional campaign in which pickup hoopsters are told that the women of the WNBA are "better than you are." If you're like most guys, your response goes something like, "Yeah, right." In the case of the Houston Comets' Sheryl Swoopes, it's best to take their word for it. You don't want to play this woman one-on-one. Swoopes, a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, combines speed, grace, tenacity and skill into a package that has helped the Comets' dynasty rack up four straight league titles. The six-foot-tall Swoopes, a former legend at Texas Tech University, is one of the few WNBA players that has a pretty jump shot, and her long, lean frame allows her to disrupt any team's offense. Heck, the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year is so good, she drove teammate and former MVP Cynthia Cooper into retirement.
No one is ever going to pick up the Houston Chronicle's sports pages for the sheer joy of reading; the best you can hope for is to get the basic information efficiently, unfettered by clunky current-events references ("The Astros fell to their knees faster than Monica Lewinsky") and free from tortuous puns. You're in luck if the columnist is Jonathan Feigen, who covers the Rockets and the NBA. Feigen writes in a clear, crisp style that sets a scene effectively, but he's not so in love with his wordsmithing that you have to search diligently for relevant facts. His skills translate well to radio, too; when he guests on the local talk shows, he brings a welcome air of common sense and moderation to the shouting matches.