Some vibrancy is gone with the team

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Chances are you're among the majority of Augustans who see headlines about the local minor league hockey team facing extinction and mumble to yourself, "Why should I care?"

It's a fair question. Most locals have never gone to watch an Augusta Lynx game in the 11 years the ECHL team has been here. Most Americans haven't cared about hockey since 1980, when we beat the Soviets in Lake Placid, N.Y.

But this isn't about whether you care about hockey or the Lynx. It's about whether you care about Augusta. And losing the Lynx is a huge loss to Augusta.

For more than a week the fate of the Lynx has been hanging in fickle financial winds like the American auto industry. The team's owners had been pleading for a bailout. On Tuesday, the team suspended its operations in midseason and relinquished its membership in the ECHL.

In terms of a price tag on this loss, who knows what that is? Chambers of commerce like to try to quantify value in things. They bandy about employment figures and revenue estimates. They talk about tangible benefits -- some of it real and some of it grossly inflated to make things sound better than they are.

But what niche sports enterprise adds to a community is much more intangible. Yet that value is real.

The Lynx made Augusta a more interesting place to live. They provided an entertainment option that not a lot of other southern cities have. They made the fabric of the community more diverse.

Whether you are a season-ticket holder or not, the Lynx were worth saving. They improved the quality of life of some of our citizens, and that in turn improved the quality of life for all of us.

Augusta is a good sports town. The city has a strong sports heart. The rest of the world knows about Augusta, Ga., because it is the home to what one survey says is America's most prestigious sporting event -- the Masters Tournament.

While we are major league for one week every April, the other 51 weeks of the year Augusta is a minor league town.

The latest Sporting News ranking placed Augusta as the 264th best sports city in America by utilizing a dubious system that takes into account performance and attendance and a whole bunch of things that don't really tell you anything about a city. Frankly, Augusta's ranking is at least 200 places too low because there are at least that many minor league towns who would trade everything they have for Augusta's sports identity.

What makes Augusta so good is the variety of options. If you don't care for golf, there's Class A baseball (GreenJackets) all summer long. If you have a basketball jones, Augusta State and USC Aiken are two of the five best basketball programs in Division II and the best recruiting talent in America comes every summer for the Peach Jam in North Augusta. Two new minor league basketball teams (Groove and Raging River) will soon join the mix.

There are all sorts of equestrian options between the Futurity and barrel-horse racing annually at the James Brown Arena to the steeplechase and polo up in Aiken. Every summer the drag boat races come to the Savannah River.

For the fitness buffs, a local half-marathon was enthusiastically resurrected and a new half-Ironman triathlon is coming next year.

"When out-of-towners look at offerings, it's not just the Masters," said Randy DuTeau, the event manager for the Greater Augusta Sports Council. "When they see the vibrancy of this sports community, it makes you want to be here."

The Lynx have been an important part of that vibrant sports tapestry. They've been around long enough to become a valuable community asset, supporting charities and energizing youth leagues. When we lose these individual pieces -- as we have also recently in soccer (FireBall), indoor football (Colts, in a state of voluntarily suspension) and cycling (on hiatus Tour de Georgia) -- we lose a part of what makes Augusta what it is.

So what if you don't partake in any or all of these options. The point is, you can. They are as vital to a civic health as good theater, concerts and museums.

As a child growing up in another minor league city, my family was lucky enough to sample from the full platter of options in Richmond, Va. Other than being season-ticket holders for Spiders football and basketball, most of the choices came a la carte. We'd attend a handful of Triple-A Braves games every summer. We'd watch a day of whatever pro tennis event came to town. There was a senior tour golf tournament that gave us a chance to see Arnold Palmer win the last thing he ever won.

And every now and then we would go down to the Richmond Coliseum and catch the American Hockey League's Robins. I don't remember a single player who ever laced the skates for them or that they were ever any good, but they had a cool mascot and the fun we had dancing to "Rockin' Robin" still remains a fond memory.

It's a shame that Augusta's minor league diversity is becoming only a memory.

Maybe you don't care about hockey, but there is a strong core in this community that does. Maybe the next thing that goes is something you care deeply about.

In the long run, Tuesday's disheartening news isn't only the Lynx's loss.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

LYNX HEAD COACHES

A look at the coaches, who went 338-330-50 in 10 1/2 seasons in Augusta.

Stan Drulia

Scott MacPherson

Jim Burton

Dan Wiebe

David Wilkie

Bob Ferguson

John Marks

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SnidleyWhiplash
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SnidleyWhiplash 12/03/08 - 09:11 am
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Excellent article - well

Excellent article - well said. Even though I moved away recently, the Lynx were a huge part of me and my family's life for the better part of 10 years, and the loss stings us just as badly as if we were still there. It is a sad day for Augusta.

jbalut
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jbalut 12/03/08 - 10:44 am
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Augusta sucks. I've been

Augusta sucks. I've been there to see the Stingrays play the Lynx and the town is just terrible. Absolutely no vibrancy. I've been there on beautiful Saturday afternoons and not seen one person walking around downtown. Of course, that's probably because there is absolutely nothing going on downtown. As the second largest city in Georgia it's hard to believe that the city can be so pathetic. I guess the good news for me is that I never have to go to Augusta again since the Stingrays won't be playing there.

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