Spring Fling 

Amid the madness, Memphis really did gain something last week.

While the horde of media types was gathered at the Cook Convention Center to watch two men in their underwear stand on a scale, another bunch of folks was at the Memphis Marriott out east to welcome an event which should make Memphians proud.

The Board of Control of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) gave Memphis the nod for the annual Spring Fling tournament for the next three years. The event features high school championships in soccer, baseball, tennis, softball, and track-and-field. Ronnie Carter, director of the TSSAA, said the board's vote was a tough one but admitted he knew Memphis would be hard to beat when he told the Flyer three weeks ago he wasn't sure who would get the nod.

"Knowing what I knew, I really couldn't control the tone in my voice," said Carter, who credited the Memphis and Shelby County Sports Authority and, specifically, its managing director Tiffany Brown for creating the relationships needed to bring the Spring Fling to Memphis.

The effort has resulted in the city snaring a wholesome event which won't cost a million dollars in security and will result in a huge financial windfall for the city. Chattanooga, which has hosted the Spring Fling for the past nine years, claims the five-day event brings in $2 million annually from 20,000 to 25,000 participants, families, and fans.

Shelby County mayor Jim Rout sat on the podium during the announcement, smiling as though he was a newly-elected mayor instead of one looking at his last 88 days in office. "Families from all across this great state will come to Memphis and see what we have to offer," he said, adding, "I'm so thrilled the entire county came together on this: professional teams, amateur teams, churches, and schools, both public and private." All venues in Shelby County are donating their playing fields, since this is a not-for-profit venture.

University of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson, a member of the Sports Authority, quipped that he had a double interest in wanting the Spring Fling in Memphis: "First, if it's good for the community, it's good for the school. Five-thousand high school athletes will come to Memphis. I'm not greedy, so I'll just take 4,500 for the U of M."

According to Brown, the University of Memphis will make available 1,370 dormitory rooms for teams and create an Olympic-type village on the campus. The rooms will cost participants $13 to $30 a night.

The Spring Fling is just the first accomplishment for a group of people whose can-do spirit is starting to pay dividends. When Brown first visited with Ronnie Carter two years ago, his question to her was "Why hasn't Memphis tried to get high school tournaments in West Tennessee?" Good question. Brown answered with action instead of words.

This is an event Memphis can really use to show off the city, unlike last week's pugilistic convention. We can invite visitors to the zoo instead of our city becoming one. Visitors will venture downtown without having to be warned to check their guns at the door and we won't have to hose down the streets when they leave.

The next three years will truly be Memphis' chance to shine.

Flyers I asked Ronnie Carter about the possibility of the state basketball tournament coming to Memphis. His reply was accompanied by a big smile. "I hope they bid," he said. The bid preparation is under way.

Ramblings Mayor Herenton was invited to attend the Spring Fling announcement but chose instead to go the fight weigh-in Has anyone thought of honoring Phil Cannon for his almost lifelong dedication to the FedEx St. Jude tournament? n

The Tyson Legacy

Team Tyson was still in Maui when co-trainer Stacey Mckinley told me the fight with Lennox Lewis was going to be Mike Tyson's legacy. He was right.

Tyson's legacy is that of a beggar. Swollen and bloody after the fight, he resembled a wild horse, ridden until broken. Instead of fulfilling his promise to push his fist into Lewis' forehead and crack his skull, Tyson was wiping the sweat off his opponent's brow and begging for a rematch.

After months of saying he would "eat" Lewis' children, Tyson was eating his words. "Thanks for the payday," Tyson meekly uttered to Lewis, before asking for another payday. All those mean things he said? Just hype for the fight.

It was a perfect end to an imperfect career. Great champions of any sport remain champions in defeat. Not Mike Tyson. Between rounds seven and eight, Mike's corner was begging him to go back out and fight his fight, but he had no fight left in him. McKinley promised Tyson he would throw in the towel if things got too bad. He didn't have to. Mike was done.

Moments prior to the fight, Tyson seemed melancholy, as if sensing his demise was at hand. So it's over. Good-bye, Iron Mike. Hello, Aluminum Mike.

I guess we should be proud of the exposure Memphis received because of the fight. But if this is the best boxing can do, then the game is over. The only redeeming value is that Mike Tyson finally got what he deserved -- a whipping he should have received when he was a preteen. -- RM

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