Sports, games and competition have been part of life since long before discuses were being hurled in Greek Olympic fields and Ben-Hur raced his chariot, but those old-timers would be astounded if they could see what the last century and a half has wrought in college towns across America.
The Civil War was a not-so-distant memory when the University of Michigan’s first organized baseball competition began in 1866. The team won all three of its games that season.
Today, game attendance often doubles hometown populations of some towns, which are overtaken by the massive accompanying celebrations. But massive as it may be, sports mania does not a permanently successful city make. Universities add culture, sometimes great research successes and job opportunities 365 days a year. Location, natural resources and climate also add appeal to other businesses while history, the great outdoors, entertainment and general ambience are magnets for townspeople and prospective residents. Ann Arbor, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; Athens, Ga.; and Norman, Okla., are thriving examples of all of the above.
Not to be outdone by its fellow institutions, the University of Oklahoma in Norman has its own sports traditions, at least one so unique it seems to have come from outer space. Consider 82,000 fans today at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium shouting out, "Hi Rickety Whoop-te-do!" That’s officially The Yell, which seems to date back to the first football game in 1895. That same year, university officials adopted the team colors now trademarked into the minds of all loyal Sooners.
The crimson and cream emerged in a traditional Oklahoma way. A committee proposed them, and the students approved. About two breaths later, the hues sprang up all over town as banners and pennants, and soon the local merchants ran out of stock. The combo became so ensconced that "cream" is still the word of choice, even though today’s version is now white.
The current craze for Ted Boehm, M.D., though, is gymnastics, an interest that began after his 4-year-old son joined a class. "Ever since then," Boehm says, "it’s been pretty amazing to watch the gymnastics teams at OU. They’re always in the top five in the country - the top six for women and top one or two for the men. For the guys, it’s at an Olympic level."
Boehm is a sports medicine physician affiliated with the Norman Regional Health System. He officially takes care of both Norman high school teams and has no regular family patients, but he does see people with sports-related medical problems or injuries.
Although he graduated from high school in Merced, Calif., he relocated to Norman after his father, a government contractor, was transferred there. When college time arrived, he decided to give other universities a fair chance, so he visited several California campuses. But, he says, "OU was by far the prettiest campus. It’s gotten even better than when I went there. It’s amazing what a good football team will do for you," he says.
After receiving his degree, he ended up "going the distance" - medical school, residency and fellowship.
As an undergraduate, he joined the marching band and played the saxophone in part to get good seats at games. A true serendipity, though, was marrying one of his band mates. "My wife’s family has had land here since the Land Run, so she wasn’t going to move anywhere. I was OK with that."
Oklahoma’s "Sooner" nickname stems from the hardy - and quick-footed - "entrepreneurs" who arrived on the scene "sooner" than everyone else when the Oklahoma border was opened for the great Land Run of 1889. The memory of those hardy pioneers is honored before every football game when two white horses, Boomer and Sooner, make the rounds of the stadium pulling a covered wagon, the Sooner Schooner.
But life in Norman doesn’t begin and end in the arena or at the edge of a campus. The city itself, in spite of being a mere half-hour drive to Oklahoma City, with its professional teams and top-notch attractions, has a life of its own, complete with a steady economy. "The unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, the same as before the recession," reports Don Wood at the Norman Economic Development Coalition.
One of the mainstays is the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and several related organizations that share space in the 244,000 square-foot National Weather Center building with the OU College of Meteorology.
Several companies are adding jobs, including Hitachi Computer Products, now completing an expansion with a projected total of 375 jobs. Some 700 jobs have sprung from activity in two business incubators.
The health care industry is one of the largest employers. The Norman Regional Health System, with two local facilities and a third just north of the city, is also the umbrella for more than 32 facilities, such as doctors’ offices and outpatient services. City officials like to say of this municipal service that it’s "a stand-alone health system, and people here are proud of that."
Although a general services hospital, NRHS has carved out several centers of excellence focusing on diabetes, stroke, weight loss surgery, hyperbaric treatments and joint replacement. It was recently cited as the state’s Number One orthopedic service provider by HealthGrades.
It has intensivists on duty around the clock and has recently introduced a service known as "Patient 2 Patient" that allows patients to share their hospital experiences with each other.
Hospital spokesperson Kelly Wells says, "A lot of doctors are from here - and want to be here."
Wood, at the economic development coalition, likes to say, "Sooners have a passion to provide great services and a great product. There’s something about the State of Oklahoma that’s sticky. There’s something about Oklahoma that makes people want to stay."
Health Care Facilities:
Norman Regional Hospital: 324 beds
Norman Regional HealthPlex: 136 beds
Learning about the most famous athletes from The Ohio State University does not require a manual, only a map of the campus in Columbus. Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, honoring the immortal 1936 Olympics hero, is a little west of Buckeye Field. Other sports facilities, including a tennis center, are named for him. The latter is a little south of Woody Hayes Drive, which honors the immortal football coach. Then there’s the Nicklaus Museum, as in Jack the golf great, whose "neighbors" include a 19,500-seat basketball venue, the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and a baseball field.
The athlete-named facilities are just a couple of the campus’s many sports fields and arenas, including an aquatic pavilion, shooting range, ice rink and more.
"I think everybody in Columbus is a sports fan to one degree or another," surmises Tom Ryan, M.D., who’s been director of the Heart and Vascular Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center for the last five years. Ryan himself points out that he’s been affiliated with one university or another since he was 18, starting as a student at Indiana University, followed by 12 years of teaching at Duke, and now a medical administrator at Ohio State. As a result, "I’m a big basketball fan, and I’ve always been interested particularly in college sports." For that reason, among others, "it was easy to move to Columbus." However, his decision was mostly influenced by Wexner’s new Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital, "a beautiful new state-of-the-art facility," and one of five university-connected hospitals.
For the professionally oriented, and like Athens, Ann Arbor and Norman, the Ohio capital is within easy reach of big-time teams in Cleveland and Cincinnati. Columbus itself is home to the Blue Jackets (ice hockey) and the Crew (soccer), which both draw enthusiastic crowds.
Back on campus, a variety of women’s and men’s sports make it easy to follow everything from rowing and swimming to wrestling, gymnastics and baseball. But the size of its stadium alone (102,329 seats) is a giveaway that football is the perennial winner.
Like other universities, Ohio State has its firmly embedded and unique traditions. Two examples: The marching band traditionally practices in the old basketball arena before every game, attracting its own hefty audiences. Then, during the half-time show, the musicians march into its Script Ohio formation.
With a population nearing 800,000, Columbus offers more than enough other entertainment and cultural avenues, among them an arts district, theater productions, concerts and museums, including COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Columbians are also proud of their special gardens, including the Franklin Park Conservatory with, among others, gardens representing four exotic world regions and a butterfly aviary; and Whetstone Park, with one of the U.S.’ largest municipal rose gardens.
But most unusual is The Topiary Park near downtown, where visitors can enjoy sculpted evergreen figures based on Georges Seurat’s famed painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte."
A few neighborhoods are throwbacks to the city’s past. Columbus began as a fur trading settlement in 1797 and, in 1812, a capital that was mostly dense forestland.
That soon changed. As road building proceeded west, the city, with its links to two canals as well, became a transportation hub - and a locale readymade for immigrants, especially Irish and Germans. Today German Village is a window into the past, complete with ethnic restaurants and shops.
In addition, adds Ryan, "We try to take advantage of all the things a big university has to offer culturally." But culture is almost a sideshow to the educational opportunities provided by a monumental center of learning.
With such gargantuan proportions, it’s hardly surprising that OSU hosts one of the largest and most diverse academic medical centers in the country.
The city is home to seven acute care hospitals, some nationally lauded for quality of care. Individually, they surpass many single-hospital cities in bed numbers. In fact, the hospitals of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center admit 58,000 patients a year. That, plus OSU’s research component, is an overwhelming presence, although Ryan points out that "we have tried to move a lot of our clinics and diagnostic facilities out into the community and region to provide more convenient access for patients." Nevertheless, he mentions that Wexner continues to expand, currently with "a new, $900 million cancer center to open in 2014."
In the meantime, Wexner has become a leader in incorporating one of medicine’s most recent innovative concepts - personalized health care.
It’s a founding member of the P4 Medicine Institute ("predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory"). The idea is to tailor care to each patient’s unique biology. "Looking to prevent rather than react is at the forefront of what we do here," says spokesperson Marti Leitch.
Although state government and OSU are huge contributors to Columbus’ economic prosperity, business and industry have carried a heavy load, beginning in the 1870s, when the city became known as the "Buggy Capital of the World," the Detroit of its day, with at least two dozen factories. Three decades later, it began "upgrading" to aviation, still an economic mainstay.
The flight into modernity continued. Four years ago, Forbes magazine named Columbus the U.S.’ number one up-and-coming tech city.
All of the above could be justification for the state - and university - nickname, officially adopted in 1950. The buckeye tree is an Ohio native. It grows where others can’t seem to make it, is hard to kill and adapts to whatever curves nature throws its way. A speaker in 1833 put it this way: "In all our woods there is hardly a tree so hard to kill as a buckeye." The message: "Buckeyes are not easily conquered."
More recently, the nickname has assumed another meaning. Says Ryan, "Everybody I think I know has at least one buckeye tree in the backyard. Good luck, I suppose."
Health Care Facilities:
The Ohio State University Wexner
Medical Center: 1,229 beds
OhioHealth: Doctors Hospital: 225
OhioHealth: Grant Medical Center: 392
Mount Carmel East: 337
Mount Carmel West: 469
Nationwide Children’s Hospital: 451
OhioHealth: Riverside Methodist Hospital: 826
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There’s at least one way that the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor can "outnumber" its old sports rival, Ohio State, even though Columbus dwarfs the city population about eight times over. With 109,901 seats, U-M has the overwhelmingly largest college football stadium in America. Added bench seating made room for the all-time largest crowd, 114,804, when Michigan hosted Notre Dame in 2011.
Numbers aside, stadium information indicates there’s always one "extra" seat honoring H.O. (Fritz) Crisler, the revered coach who helped propel the Wolverines to greatness when he designed the "winged" helmet. The added streaks of blue and yellow helped players identify their teammates down the field.
Loyal U-M alumni have kept careful track of the Wolverines’ statistics vs. their traditional OSU rivals. The rivalry has veered off onto some helpful paths. Instead of destructive stunts, the two schools compete in food bank collections and a "blood battle" benefiting the Red Cross.
But, in spite of the teams’ nickname, the one critter never to be found in a U-M stadium is…a wolverine. There’s no reliable story about its emergence, and most, pardon the word, Wolverines think a mascot is "unnecessary and undignified," according to the Bentley Historical Library account.
As for sports, fans’ enthusiasm hardly ends with a pigskin ball. In fact, the first organized sport on campus, in 1866, was baseball. U-M triumphed in all three games that year. These days, 28 other varsity men’s and women’s sports can vie for fan loyalty. One major example: "Ice hockey is huge here," says Christopher Kaiser, an athletics spokesman. "It attracts student players from Canada, Sweden and the rest of Europe."
Adds Dennis Doyle of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, "We’re hoping [for] 114,000 spectators here for the upcoming NHL Winter Classic."
Skating prodigies are not the only international arrivals. In fact, it’s said that when former President Lech Walesa of Poland arrived in Ann Arbor as a lecturer, he attended a football game, saw a Royal Shakespeare Company play and heard a Kirov Orchestra concert. Later he exclaimed, "I feel like I’m in the middle of New York City!"
Some 250 bistros, mostly owner-operated, offer unusual foods. There are some 30 independent bookstores, dozens of galleries, the U-M Museum of Art, and the World of Discovery, a 5,000-square-foot "reptile zoo" and rescue center that opened last year.
The city’s pièce de resistance, though, has to be the four-day Ann Arbor Art Fairs held every July, a four-in-one celebration with art works, music and family activities in various areas. The annual attendance hovers around 500,000.
All in all, Doyle assesses the city as "a small, friendly town with big city sophistication."
A major lure is the U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, which share park and wooded space along the banks of the Huron River flowing through the city. The area is the setting for a possible one-of-a-kind feature - "Shakespeare at the Arb," presentations whimsically dubbed "moving performances." Each act takes place in a different location, with audience members following the actors as they move along.
The peripatetic actors, in a rather tenuous way, have something in common with Paul Lee, M.D., JD, whose journeys have taken him from a small upstate New York community to the U-M Medical School to an internship in Boston, residency and fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, then to a first job at the University of Southern California (concurrent with work at the Rand Corporation) and on to a 14-year stint at Duke University. He returned to Ann Arbor in February to accept positions teaching at the medical school and as chairman of the ophthalmology department at U-M’s W.K. Kellogg Eye Center.
His reason for the recent move: "Health care, education and research are going to change a lot in the next few years, and Michigan is set up to take a leadership role. It was an opportunity to come back and work with (highly competent) colleagues, and with folks in engineering and other departments to build new models that we all need (in the future)."
He finds the city itself compatible with his temperament. "I’m a big fan of understanding that everybody has his own desires and passions," he says, "and Ann Arbor offers a wide range of easily accessible choices for people to follow." Diversity of restaurants and activities notwithstanding, he cites the diversity of housing and school choices. It’s possible to live in a new or "historic" home, in town, on farmland or at lakeside. Better yet, "All options are within great commuting conditions." He also mentions high-quality public and private schools, all also in easily accessible locations.
For diversity in sports, Detroit, with Lions, Tigers, Pistons and Redwings, is a mere 40 miles away. For other forms of entertainment, he cites shows, concerts and festivals, especially the Art Fairs.
The University of Michigan Health System had its beginnings with the opening of its medical school in 1850. By the end of the 19th century it had incorporated all four components of modern medicine, including a hospital, nursing school and research department. Its dramatic growth and the dedication of its participants would put it in the forefront of many new treatments and techniques. Recently it was one of the few health care organizations selected to vet the Pioneer Accountable Care Organization (ACO), a model for providing better care while reducing Medicare/Medicaid costs.
The city’s other area hospital, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, is actually located in nearby Ypsilanti, but notes that it offers, among other services, the U.S.’ leading senior ER program, has Michigan’s most advanced robotic team, provides specialty education to surgeons nationwide and has been named one of 50 top cardiology hospitals in 2012.
Health Care Facilities:
St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital: 537 beds
University of Michigan Health System: 610 beds
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This is what happens on a football Saturday in Athens, Ga., a city heavy with sports traditions: University of Georgia fans begin arriving in town on Thursday. By game time, the city population has almost doubled to about 200,000. Tailgate parties spread across the campus. Ticketholders swarm into Sanford Stadium (92,746 seats). But never fear! The "unlucky" can view the game on massive TV screens as the Bulldogs, in striking red and black, take on the adversaries.
Not to be overlooked is Uga (pronounced "Ugga"), the legendary white English Bulldog now the ninth generation in a mascot line dating to 1956. Uga is also a familiar face in town as a "spokesperson" for the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), one of whose slogans is "Athens: Life Unleashed." Subtitle: "Loosen your collar." The ubiquitous Uga is also a hint that Athens is a super pet-friendly city. For example, one upscale hotel schedules canine cocktail hours - themed cocktail specials for adults and snacks for Fido and Missy.
Starting with baseball in 1886, sports has been a mainstay at the university. But athletics are hardly the only big asset of the University of Georgia, and similarly, while it’s the biggest act in town, UGA is only one important feature of this area near the Blue Ridge Mountains foothills. Nature provides the setting for hiking, biking, and boating on the Oconee River.
For one physician, Georgia born-and-bred Patrick Willis, M.D., the state was too good to leave. He grew up in Brunswick, graduated from Mercer University in Macon and the Medical College of Georgia, then completed residency and fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta, about 70 miles from Athens.
He was well versed in UGA sports by the time he accepted his current position as a cardiologist with Oconee Heart and Vascular Center and affiliated with St. Mary’s Health Care System, one of two hospitals in town. "My wife, a psychologist, and I like Athens as a place where we can raise a family," he says. "It isn’t a big city like Atlanta, but it’s close enough to a big city when we need to get to it."
He adds, "It’s a good hybrid, with a good small-town flavor, but large enough that you do get some diversity." In particular, there’s the diversity of restaurants. "There are a lot of little bistros and a lot of little mom-and-pop shops."
At the CVB, marketing/communications director Hannah Smith echoes the thought. For a city of its size, Athens can boast restaurants with "nationally known local chefs doing creative things with local products," she says.
"Several very famous bands got their start here, including REM, the B52’s and Widespread Panic," Smith reports. "In fact, we’ve become so well-known as a music center that many groups have moved here."
"There are 400 bands living and working here - and 75 music venues," says Sandy Turner, the city’s public information officer. "The city of Austin, Texas, is 10 times bigger than Athens, and has the same number of groups."
Although it’s called The Classic City, with 16 vintage neighborhoods on the National Register, Athens is hardly living in the past. In fact, in a move yielding considerable economies in government, area residents voted to make the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County the 28th consolidated city-county government in the U.S. It’s a good talking point for businesses considering relocation. "There’s only one government entity to work with," Turner says.
Still, says Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Doc Eldridge, "The biggest economic event in my time was when we finally got a medical school here." UGA has entered a medical partnership with Georgia Health Sciences University at the venerable Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. The UGA affiliate opened in 2010 with two upper classes of 40 students each, expanding to a full four-year program this August and eventually to 60 students per class.
It couldn’t have happened at a better time. Georgia is one of the 10 fastest-growing states and already has a severe physician shortage. GHSU is designed to emphasize small group learning and student/teacher interaction and "allows for innovative teaching opportunities," according to spokesperson Alison Bracewell McCullick.
The medical campus is on the site of a former U.S. Navy school, conveniently located near the city’s two hospitals, St. Mary’s and the Athens Regional Medical Center. Both chose to open intern and residency programs.
A decade ago, in addition to its general services, St. Mary’s began focusing emphasis on five medical specialties most needed in the area. The reason, as public relations manager Mark Ralston explains it: "We are in the belt buckle of the heart and stroke belt of Georgia."
St. Mary’s also established a Children’s Specialty Services Clinic, where specialists regularly schedule appointments. In general, Ralston reports, the goal is to improve and upgrade all services. "We have dedicated ourselves to being excellent. Our CEO says, ’Average is not good enough.’"
This may have been a factor in the "huge influx of doctors" in the last few years, as he also reports. And it may play a part in the influx of jobs. Caterpillar, Inc., for instance, is building a new construction equipment manufacturing facility in the area, with a projected labor force of 1,400 by 2020, plus 2,800 supply-chain-related jobs.
The combination of all of the above leads the Chamber of Commerce’s Doc Eldridge to proclaim: "It’s a wonderful place to live."
Health Care Facilities:
Athens Regional Medical Center: 375 beds
St. Mary’s Health Care System: 196 beds