Lions have never sat on the sidelines. We’ve been star players in the wide world of sports. The Babe Homers for Lions Through the years Lions have sweet-talked countless pro athletes to work with them on fundraisers. But the biggest coup of all was the day the Sultan of Swat visited a small California town at the behest of Lions. In 1924 Babe Ruth was the indisputable colossus of the sports world. One year after leading the New York Yankees to their first World Series title, Ruth slugged 46 home runs and batted .378 in palatial Yankee Stadium. On Oct. 22, he traveled by train to rustic Dunsmuir Ball Park in California for an exhibition game. With him on the barnstorming tour was Bob Meusel, also part of the Yankees’ famed “Murderer’s Row.” Ruth required a $1,000 fee to play a seven-inning game. The Dunsmuir Lions couldn’t cover that, so they convinced local businessman Frank Talmadge to put up $700. Local players filled in the two rosters. Nearly 1,000 people jammed the park. The Yankee great told the awestruck pitcher to throw strikes. “The people didn’t come here to watch me walk,” he crowed. Ruth socked two homers as his team won. Ruth enjoyed his few hours in the frontier- like town. He later wrote a letter to residents: “When it comes to beautiful girls, wonderfully fine fellows and the real twofisted spirit of California–little old Dunsmuir gave us more laughs, more hospitality, more thrills and more things to remember than any place between Broadway and Shasta.” Lions made Ruth an honorary member–and made an impression on him. He returned to Dunsmuir two years later to fish with Lions. Time marches on. Yankee Stadium met the wrecking ball. The Dunsmuir Lions disbanded. But Dunsmuir Ball Park remains. A weather-beaten monument near its wooden grandstand recalls the day Ruth roared into town. Glory Days Never End Pads pop, and quarterbacks rifle footballs to fleet receivers at the annual all-star football game in Scranton. That’s quite a change from the first all-star game when players in leather helmets grinded the ball down the field from the single wing. That’s because the Scranton Lions Club All Star Dream Game in Pennsylvania began in 1935, making it the nation’s oldest continuous high school allstar game. In Pennsylvania, high school football is king, and Lions long ago sunk their claws into a project that draws fever-pitch interest. As many as 15,000 fans pass through the turnstiles in a matchup of city versus county all-stars. They’ve watched a lot of very good players and some great ones: Jimmy Cefalo of Penn State and the Miami Dolphins, Mike Ruddy of Notre Dame and the Miami Dolphins, Mike Fanucci of Arizona State and the Washington Redskins, and Chris Snee of Boston College and the New York Giants. John Mesko, the Lions’ coordinator of the Dream Game, played in it as running back in 1970. “I remember what a privilege and honor it was,” says Mesko, who played at Temple. “I went to it as little kid. We all did.” A decade or so ago college coaches awarded a couple of scholarships at the end of the game, which then included Division I prospects. But NCAA signing rules and the college coaches’ fears of injury ended that. But some things never change with the Dream Game: thousands of exuberant fans, star players and, most importantly, funds generated from the game given to the Lackawanna Country Branch of the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind. An All-Star Among All-Star Games Nine players at college basketball’s Final Four last year shared at least one thing in common: they had once played in the Kentucky Lions All-Star Basketball Game. Top high school players from Kentucky and Indiana, adjoining states passionate about high school hoops, square off in the annual contest. Begun in 1940, it is one of the longest running all-star games in the nation. For the players, the game is an opportunity to test their skills against other elite players. Fans flock to the game to watch in person athletes they soon will watch on TV at the college level and in the NBA. For Lions, the game generates huge support for the Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation. The foundation has received more than $2 million from proceeds. Funds support eye banks and clinics, a vision van, a Kid Sight program and eye research. More than 20 doctors at the University of Louisville Department of Ophthalmology currently are doing eye research at the Kentucky Lions Eye Center. Retired New York Knick Allan Houston, New Orleans Hornet Eric Gordon and oft-injured former Portland Trailblazer center Greg Oden are among the game’s alumni. The basketball showcase features slam dunks, brilliant passes and, often, heartwarming back stories. In 1967, Jim McDaniels, a rugged power forward who went on to play in the ABA and NBA, gratefully recounted how Lions gave him eyeglasses when he was a small child living in poverty. More than 11,000 fans crowd Freedom Hall in Louisville, the former arena of the University of Louisville, to see the all-star classic, which includes an Indiana/Kentucky girls matchup as well. The Louisville Downtown Lions Club ran the event until the 1980s when it turned it over to the Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation. Lions sell tickets, hawk programs, and, like everyone else, gawk at the above-the-rim play. Football and Food Friday night lights in Odessa, Texas, means evening football. For Lions it means thousands of hot dogs, nacho plates and Frito pies, adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for good causes. Lions run the concession stands at 18,000-seat Ratliff Stadium, ranked by ESPN as one of the top 10 high school football venues. It’s often packed. Odessa was the setting for the book “Friday Night Lights,” which led to the movie and TV show. “Football is like a religion down here,” says Dr. Javier Morales, president. The 89-member Odessa Downtown Lions Club has run the football concessions since 1970. The stadium opening in 1982 opened the floodgates for additional revenue. Seventeen stands with 81 workers operate when the stadium is full. Concessions also are sold during soccer and track–180 events annually. The $60,000 annual profit funds the club’s free eye clinic. Ice Water in Veins–Eventually Frozen ponds, backyard rinks and doting fathers lead to ice hockey greatness. Just ask Wayne Gretzky. The Great One also learned–the hard way–about handling himself off the ice from Lions. His first speaking engagement came as a 10-year-old when Lions in Brantford, Ontario, recognized the prodigy for scoring a ridiculous 378 goals in a season. Young Gretzky tripped over his skates at the dinner, so to speak. Especially nervous because his idol, Gordie Howe, sat at the head table, he mumbled a thanks and cried before speeding back to his seat. Lions, not wanting him to feel ashamed, applauded warmly. Gretzky eventually became a polished speaker and a classy player on and off the ice. Assist, Lions. Diamonds Are a Lion’s Best Friend Baseball is a big deal in little Monroe City, Missouri, population 2,500. More than 400 youths play baseball or softball on the three diamonds owned and maintained by Monroe City Lions, who run the leagues, staff the concession stands, umpire games and often coach teams on which their own children play. So after the town supported various fundraisers by Lions over two years to improve the fields, Lions thanked residents by staging a vintage baseball game in 2009. A vintage baseball team from St. Louis took on a Monroe City team before a large crowd. As in the 1860s, fans sat in the outfield, and outfielders, known as “scouts” in the early days of baseball, dodged spectators while chasing fly balls. The “hurlers” tossed the ball underhand to the “behind,” the catcher. The “strikers” had to use thin wooden bats less than 2.5 inches in diameter. Home plate was a circular iron plate. The rules and customs of the time–many of them family- friendly–were strictly followed. There were no gloves, no sliding, no spitting and no cursing. The St. Louis team was the reigning world champ in vintage baseball. No matter. “We kind of stacked our team. We destroyed them,” says Mayor Neal Minor, a Lion who played in the game. No Blood is Shed The Camel Cup draws 5,000 fans to watch the “ships of the desert” race in Alice Springs, Australia. Run by Lions since 1971, the nine-race spectacle grew out of a quarrel between two Lions. “They were getting a bit moody after a couple of drinks, and they decided guns, knives, bare hands or camels,” says Lion Ian Rowan of the Alice Springs Lions. “They decided on camels, and the rest is history.” Bike Warriors Mike Layman spends a lot of time on his bike; he’s pedaled more than 50,000 miles in the last 30 years. He’s also put in untold hours as a Lion in Maryland since 1993. His hours on the road gave him time to think. His club then, the Aberdeen Lions, was aging, and fewer members were able to work their Christmas tree project. “All the time I spend on my bike–there has to be a better way,” he thought to himself. Thus was born the Maryland Cycling for Sight Lions Club in 2010. Members cycle so others may see. The club stages two rides a year and solicits donations from the hordes of cyclists that join them. In the fall the club teamed up with the Warrior Brotherhood to raise funds for Fisher House, which provides lodging for veterans receiving medical treatment. The Warriors rode their motorcycles 75 miles, and the bicyclists covered 22 miles. The club also supports the Maryland School for the Blind. Only about half of the club’s 18 members cycle. “It’s not about the bike,” says Layman, retired U.S. Army. “People see the cycling and they think the goal is to ride. The goal is to help others.” Lions on bikes call attention to the service of Lions. “Cyclists attract a lot of attention with the colorful jerseys. We create a buzz,” says Layman, whose wife, Dee, and two sons, Dave and Don, are members. Running a Running Race More than 1,400 high school cross country runners streamed into the quiet town of Alexandria in western Minnesota this fall. The Lions Meet of Champions is one of the state’s premier cross country races. Alexandria Lions have run the meet in their town of 11,000 since 1973 when a teacher at Alexandria High School who was a Lion proposed that his club run the event. This year 23 schools competed. Some from southern Minnesota traveled as far as 200 miles. Ten of the state’s top 15 girl runners competed as did six of the top 15 boys. Also among the runners were two children of Ron Branch, treasurer. The meet is held at the Arrowwood Resort, where the rooms quickly fill up. Lions mark the course, set up the bleachers, work the race and pay for the trophies. The event raises no funds for the club but generates a lot of good will. “It’s just an exciting day. For the schools it’s one of the highlights of their year,” says Lion Jerry Hansen. “Geez, Honey, I Asked You to Mow the Lawn!” The roar of engines, the speeding around a track, the possibility of a crash–that is all part of the race day of the Spring Branch-Bulverde Lions Club in Texas. But these aren’t race cars circling the 1/4- mile track–they’re lawnmowers. The club holds its Mow Down Show Down at a rodeo arena. Don’t assume this is all for laughs (though spectators often sport wry smiles). The souped-up machines go as fast as 50 miles per hour, and drivers who finish first pump their fists in triumph. For younger tykes who prefer to ride a machine and not watch others have all the fun, just outside the arena the club runs the Blue Lion Train, a 100-foot-long, water-barrel tractor-train.
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