Smile Politely

BEST: Sports

If you missed our entry on The Arts yesterday, as well as the overwrought origin story for this series, get caught up here. Today: Sports.


Best Illini sports program: Tennis

Craig Tiley put Illinois on the collegiate tennis map. In his twelve years as coach, the Illini went 274-77, claimed nine consecutive Big Ten titles, and won the 2003 national championship. Even after Tiley’s departure from C-U in 2005 for the player development directorship at Tennis Australia (he now also runs the Australian Open tournament), Illinois tennis remains firmly in place among the nation’s elite programs under current coach Brad Dancer. The Illini boast an eight-year streak of NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances, and they head into this weekend’s Big Ten Championships ranked 14th in the nation.

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Best place to play croquet, bocce, and assorted lawn games: The President’s Mansion

This is how you throw a tea party, people.  With absinthe.

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Best tennis court: Eisner Park

The lone court at Champaign’s Eisner Park is the best in the twin cities for two reasons. First, its green carpet playing surface yields a game that is inimitable in these parts. Well-struck, heavily-spun serves and ground strokes skid on the turf. Good footwork is a must, given the slickness of the terrain and quickness of the action. This fanatic has on more than one occasion pretended to be playing at Wimbledon with an old wooden racquet. But, more than anything else, it is the charm of the place that lifts it above other community tennis spots. This is a neighborhood treasure, C-U’s Wrigley or Fenway: a cozy, enclosed haven surrounded by 80-year-old homes and a friendly saloon. And in the early evenings in May and June, folks can rally to the sounds of Little League baseball being played just 100 feet south of the net.

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Best basketball court: Phillips Recreation Center

Finding a pickup game in C-U is pretty simple when the weather turns nice, but finding the right game is a little more difficult. Part of the deal at Phillips Recreation Center, located between Springfield and Stoughton in downtown Urbana, is that you better come ready to play. The fact that there is only one court makes the level of competition intense on any given Saturday, and the setting makes for a perfect homage to C-U: just urban enough to call it city ball, but with the wafting south farms, just country enough to be helpful in the development of the next Jimmy Chitwood. Oops. Wrong state.

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Best gym: Momentum

If you like to watch movies while machines manipulate your limbs, then by all means head over to Refinery.  It’s an extremely nice facilty, and a self-motivator can surely make great strides on that beach body.  If, however, you want to have your ass handed to you on a daily basis while you get in the best athletic shape of your life, then check out Momentum.  They follow the crossfit strength and conditioning program, which has gained a cult-like following in the last few years for a simple reason — it works.  Yes, it’s a little expensive, but for the amount of individual attention and actual progress you’ll see, it’s well worth it.

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Best place to arm yourself: Dave’s Firearms

Dave’s is the full service gun shop for Champaign-Urbana: handguns, long guns, ammunition, repair, shipping and just about any other service related to owning and operating a firearm.  Dave himself is passionate and knowledgable and has dedicated himself to (what this editor believes to be) a worthy cause: the 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights!  Scoff if you like, but word has it that if you stop by on a Saturday you just might run into your favorite Marxist professor.  The only thing lacking is a fully operational indoor shooting range.  Come on, Dave!

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Best mini-park: Mini Park IV

With so many pocket-sized oases to choose from, this category is ripe for controversy.  Lush and verdant # IV, nestled snugly into the bosom of Champaign’s arterial byways, narrowly edged out McCollum Park, which can suffer seasonal privation at the death of the peacock-cornucopia.  IV most fully realizes its purpose as sanctuary for the weary traveler.  And just look at that view from the bench.

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Best Illini athlete that you may not have heard of: Angela Bizzarri

Well, you’ve probably heard of her if you have even a passing interest in Illini sports beyond football and basketball; we’re not really unearthing a deeply hidden gem here. Bizzarri is the defending NCAA outdoor 5,000-meter champion and is a two-time All-American in cross country, outdoor and indoor track. The junior from Mason, Ohio, is also an Academic All-American studying molecular and cellular biology. No word yet on whether she can also walk on water, but the smart money is on yes.

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Best Parkland College program: Baseball

It’s gotta be the baseball Cobras, who are the defending NJCAA DII national champions and are off to a stellar 32-5 start this season under coach Matt Kennedy.

Last season, Parkland finished 44-9 and rampaged through the postseason, going 9-0 in the regional and national tournaments on their way to the Cobras’ second national title in the last eight years.

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Best place to go for a run: South Farms

It’s difficult to get very far from civilization (or mechanized agriculture) within jogging distance of C-U, but this route will get you as close as possible. Between public berry bushes, the Pollinatorium, and the feeling that you’re cutting through the property of several different farmers, it’s a little more of a stimulating trip than the normal crushing flatness. Honorable mention: Meadowbrook Park and Hessel Park.

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Worst Illini team: Football

I have nothing clever to say here that hasn’t been said better a thousand other places, but just look at them guns on Coach <REDACTED>!


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Check out Wednesday’s Food and Drink entry here.

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