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Sweet Summer Sports

It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about Kentuckians, young and old, taking
to the ball fields, soccer fields, waterways, and roadways to enjoy summer’s sweet
pastime-sports of any flavor.

It’s summer in Kentucky and the air up there makes
you feel like you’re wearing a wet sponge. But you don’t care. Sports and summer
go hand in hand. It’s just too much fun. Sort of like picking your favorite
from Baskin Robbins’ nearly 1,000 ice cream flavors.

Take a glimpse at 10-year-old Megan Veech, who thinks
playing soccer in Bardstown is a blast. Even after a 2-1 loss.

"I love it," she says, revealing subtle
little dimples.

Bob Walters, banker turned realtor, climbs into a
canoe, his cell phone tucked safely inside a waterproof sandwich bag. The member
of Elkhorn Paddlers Canoe Club describes his own version of sweet, swift escape.

"Five minutes in a canoe," he says, "and
you can be in the wilderness."

"Wilderness," as in gazing at a huge blue
heron flying over the water, gliding placidly through the early morning shade.

Summer is when the Bluegrass Cycling Club, out of
Lexington, draws more riders than ever from towns down the road like Richmond
and Frankfort. The trick, President Bill Daniels says, is to hang on to the
new bikers later on, when the pleasant weather gives way to November.

But let’s get off that thought. While the days of
sultriness and sunshine are still with us, we can look around some more.

Softball & Shelby Parks

Richard "Dickie" Bowen’s co-ed Mix
Match softball team is in trouble.

Down 7-0 in the third inning at Shelbyville’s Clear
Creek Park, his shortstop-whose name shall be omitted to protect the guilty-slams
a hit to right center, but then is thrown out at second trying to stretch it
into a double. Ouch!

Bowen puts his easy-going, profanity-free coaching
style into practice. As the embarrassed player returns to the dugout, Bowen
only glances in the base blunderer’s general direction, smiles, and then holds
an index finger in the air.

"One base at a time," he says mildly.

Simpsonville’s Bowen, 52, and his wife, Neesy, have
coached and played at this park "forever" they say, which carbon-dates
back to when their kids were going to grade school. One of the offspring, LaSondra,
is now 25 and patrols left field.

Neesy, who at least matches her husband in the laid-back
category, laughs at the suggestion that, after all this time, they must really
enjoy this game.

"Richard does," she says. She recounts
the reason why. Because her husband grew up working on a farm in nearby Scott
Station, Dickie didn’t have time to play ball as a boy. Neesy says adult softball
gives him a chance "to go back to his childhood."

Recaptured youth or not, Bowen’s team is, in the
vernacular, being dogged. The Mix Matches lose badly to Waddy Travel Center,
which, on a talent scale of 1 to 10, is unusual for this kind of league. Their
players all look like all 8s and above.

Whatever. The game is in the books and the Mix Matches
head for home, disappointed but glad to have been there.

Softball at Clear Creek is just one sport in a park
that has so many things going on that the easiest way to keep track is to just
alphabetize them: Baseball. Basketball. Bird watching. Boating. Canoeing. Camping.
Fishing. Golf. Hiking. Horseshoes. Hiking. Playgrounds. Soccer. Softball. Swimming.
T-Ball. Tennis. Volleyball.

All that, plus the 1-year-old Family Activity Center,
a $5.6 million indoor complex.

Grand total: 240 acres and counting. In 2000, the
outdoor action alone drew over 100,000 people, according to Clay Cottongim.
Cottongim is director of the Shelbyville-Shelby County Parks and Recreation
Board, which oversees Clear Creek, the adjacent Lake Shelby, and four small
neighborhood parks.

Warren’s Paradise Parks

Warren County has its super-sized park too, the
Basil W. Griffin Jr. Park on the south side of Bowling Green.

But the parks and recreation department prefers to
count Griffin as just one player-albeit its "crown jewel"-in a countywide
system that has 26 parks, including full-blown recreation areas, community parks,
and school parks.

Griffin is 111 acres stuffed with such draws as a
33-acre lake, plus facilities for the park’s biggest draw-softball and baseball.
There are 10 ball diamonds in all.

The park’s numbers go up an estimated 45 or 50 percent
in the summer, says Phil Moore, who has been director of the department since
1974.

Besides the expected attractions, Griffin offers
some groovy things, especially for young people, like a roller hockey rink,
a compass course, an 18-hole disc golf course, and a skating facility with a
half-pipe and other set-ups to lure the bike, board, and roller blading crowd.

And there is, as Moore points out, "Paradise
Playground" for youngsters.

So it gets used?

"Used?" responds Moore, either offended
by the question or amused by its naivete. "It stays full!"

About the only item not here is a real golf course.
"No room for one," Moore explains.

Back Road Biking

Around 10:30 in the morning, Winchester’s Robert
Strosnider heads for his 18-speed touring bike, intent on hitting the back roads
before it gets hot.

Strosnider says he pedals at least three times a
week, rolling anywhere from 20 to 50 miles along Winchester’s back roads and
neighborhoods. That’s not counting longer special-event rides measuring 100
miles or so-one way. Even with winters off, he still manages to roll up between
1,200 and 1,500 miles a year. Strosnider says he "tries" to stay in
shape and enjoy the experience at the same time.

Not bad for a 70-year-old.

But Strosnider and his bike-riding friends have to
watch it.

"Traffic has increased tremendously over the
past few years over some of the country roads," he says. "We’ve found
we had to shift to roads that aren’t desirable."

That situation makes a fairly new trend in Kentucky
attractive to Strosnider and those who think like him-riding along old railroad
routes.

Strosnider pulled together the Kentucky Rails to
Trails Council Inc. in 1994. The not-for-profit organization has spearheaded
efforts to turn abandoned railroad tracks into riding and walking trails.

Four trails are now open in the state, totaling 15.9
miles. Surfaces range from subsurface cinder and dirt, to gravel, to asphalt
pavement.

They include Riverwalk in Louisville (7 miles); Central
City to Greenville (6 miles plus a proposed 3-mile add-on); Cathy Crockett Memorial
Trail in Pulaski and McCreary counties (1.5 miles plus another 6 to be opened);
and the Cadiz Railroad Trail (1.5 miles). (See related story.)

At least 150 more miles of trails are either proposed
or being developed around the state.

Compared to states like Ohio and West Virginia, which
Strosnider says have hundreds of miles of rail paths, Kentucky is a ways back.
But with plans to add more, "significant progress" has been made.

"We’re coming along," he says.

Bardstown Shouts Soccer

Ask what the favorite summer sport is in Bardstown,
and everybody-or at least the color-coded knots of players and their parents
who gather at Dean Watts Park-would likely not say baseball.

Officials of the Nelson County Youth Soccer Association
say their sport is now the big warm-weather draw in the community. Soccer runs
from March to November, with as many as 800 ball-chasing youths-from preschoolers
to 18-year-olds-spread out over 12 fields.

"We’re a soccer family, aren’t we girls?"
asks Michael Veech in his soft-spoken way.

Veech doubles as the father and coach for Megan and
her 9-year-old sister Meredith. The father of five also coaches soccer and baseball
for two of his younger children, too. Probably the only reason he doesn’t coach
the remaining child, daughter Madison, is because she hasn’t turned 2 yet. But
it won’t be long.

Megan and Meredith are pretty girls, both blessed
with gorgeous peaches-and-cream skin. It is halftime, and they’ve played their
game as their teammates have, in a disciplined, quiet style. But just before
the second half begins, they break out, unleashing 30 seconds of unbridled,
adolescent vocal chord action into a loud, spirited chant:

"We are the Twis-ters, the Mighty Mighty Twis-ters,

And everywhere we go-o, people want to know-o…"

The Twisters lose but, like the Bowens’ softball
team, nobody appears to be exactly heartbroken over it.

After the game, the girls repeat the chant for a
visitor. Okay, this time their voices aren’t as buoyant as before. But the Veech
girls are still smiling, apparently happy just to play the game and hang out
with their father.

Just being part of summer, one might say, is a melody
to these Kentuckians. A rich, seasonal song. A chant.

"We’ve got a lot of ’em," Megan says, dimples
showing.

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