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There’s no place like home when it comes to sports events

Sports arenas seem to take on life of their own not only as a gathering place for fans of a particular event, but also as part of the community.

We attach nostalgia or tradition to a certain gym, pool, field etc. with the imbued sense that the mere presence of the place will have an impact on the outcome of that particular athletic competition. Baseball fans in New York recently bid farewell to the venerable Yankee Stadium with the type of emotion you would lament the loss of a loved one.

Of course, we have those type of treasured sports icons here at the local level. I’ve written many times on the legends surroundings places like Marcusen Park and the Ove Berven Gym. Yet, is it really easier to make a jump shot at the Berven Gym rather than at the newer gym down the hall?

Our affinity for these remnants of some bygone glorious epoch reflect on the importance of history to the culture of the country. This is especially true in the world of sports where any edge, especially for the home team, is worth the effort required to hype the occasion.

That’s why I’ve always liked the phrase, "protecting your home turf." It conjures up images of mythical battles to save the homeland from marauding invaders.

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New tradition

The Lyle/Austin Pacelli football team had been on the road so long, that they haven’t quite figured out how to play at home. Although it took a while for the home team to get things going last Friday night on the new Lyle Field, the fans were still treated to a good show.

Aside from the fact that Brock Meyer had to do the public address call on the game from a makeshift scaffolding, I thought the new field looked to be in pretty good shape. The home fans were a bit nervous after Lyle/Pacelli fell behind by 20 points, but a spirited comeback made the first game on the new field something to remember even though it ended with a loss.

Once they hoist the crow’s nest back into place, then there will be a continuity from the old days to the new era. They saved the vintage pressbox from the wrecking ball after the old field was torn down, and at some point it will once again look down upon the gridiron action.

Another tradition resurrected when they started playing home games in Lyle again was the blast of an airhorn from passing truck drivers on Highway 218.

One of the lorries let out a howl on the horn near the end of the first half and suddenly, the passing offense of the L/P Athletics came to life. They scored a touchdown right before halftime and made things exciting for the fans in the second half. It might take a few games, but the L/P Athletics should settle in nicely to their new home after three years of being on the road.

Coming home

An oddity in the scheduling of the Austin High volleyball team has put the Packers on the road for the last three weeks. Thursday night will be the first home game for the Austin girls in a long time and that will give them a chance to throw candy to the fans.

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This is another added advantage of playing on the home floor, the team develops its own traditions. During pre-match introductions, the Austin girls routinely throw bags of candied confections up into the crowd. Hopefully, fans of the Packers volleyball team will be energized by their sugar fix and cheer loudly for the home team in the upcoming home match against Rochester John Marshall.

It’s been a long time since I saw the Packers play a home match, but they have been highly competitive in their three appearances at Austin High. The last time out was a loss to state-ranked Owatonna, but the intense nature of the Austin girls in that match drew praise from the visiting coach, Rod Nakagaki.

Getting praise from a coach like Nakagaki, who has been in the state tournament a few times during his long tenure at Owatonna, means Austin has come a long ways in the last couple of years. When coach Darica Schneider took over this program there wasn’t much to cheer about, but now the fans are loud and it makes the home matches a fun experience.

The Packers and the JM Rockets split a pair of two-games matches last weekend in a tournament at Rochester, so the Big Nine Conference match this week should be another close encounter between the two teams.

Packer Invite

Not many places are louder than when a number of girls swimming and diving teams pay a visit to the Ellis pool for the annual Packer Invitational. This event will take place on Saturday and the loud crowd at the pool gets the visitor prepared for the atmosphere of the section meet later in the season.

My favorite part of the Packer Invite is when all of the screaming stops for the diving competition. The crowd then bursts into applause when Courtney Fleming and Caroline Brown of the Packers finish their routines. Fleming and Brown both qualified for the Class A State Meet last year, and the girls bring a certain elegance to their sport.

The Packers relay teams are also a force to be reckoned with and this will give them a chance to measure their times against the best swimmers in the conference. During the relays, I like to sit by the pool and observe the action, which usually results in getting wet. Having a soggy notebook forces the reporter to be more creative, and gives the resulting narrative more of a first-hand approach.

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They also have some of the best brownies in the conference at the concession stand. The Ellis pool has been in existence for over three decades and it’s still an exciting place to be when the Packers host a home meet.

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