Book review: “A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66”

Here’s a new guidebook that takes on a previously unexplored aspect of Route 66 — local sports teams that help unite those communities.

Ron Clements’ “A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66” (Amazon link; Imbrifex Books, paperback, 352 pages, Kindle version available) takes the traditional east-to-west path on the eight states that Route 66 traverses and lists many top attractions along the way.

The key difference is Clements has written the book for legions of sports fans. Not only does “A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66” dutifully describe the professional and Division I university teams along the way, but it takes care to note successful small college and high school teams, along with golf courses, auto racing ovals, rodeo events, horse-racing tracks, hiking trails and hunting and fishing areas — all on or a few miles from the Mother Road.

“This book is for people who have driven past a high school, college or professional stadium and thought, ‘I wonder what it’s like to see a game there,'” Clements writes in the introduction.

As expected, Clements’ book extensively covers iconic venues such as Chicago’s United Center, Albuquerque’s The Pit, Pasadena’s Rose Bowl and Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium and Staples Center. It also describes the prominent athletes who grew up on or developed their skills in towns along Route 66, ranging from professional golf’s Hale Irwin in Baxter Springs, Kansas, to major league baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson at Pasadena College.

Clements also gives plenty of ink to quirky places, such as the CornCrib in Normal, Illinois, that hosts the Normal Cornbelters wood-bat baseball team and serves corn from its concession stand harvested from just outside the outfield fences.

Clements devotes much of the book to high schools and their notable sports programs, past and present. One will learn about Hinsdale Central High School in Illinois and the 103 state championships it’s won in various sports, the long tradition of basketball excellence at Gallup in New Mexico and the fabled Jenks-Union football rivalry in the Tulsa area.

Clements says attending a local game will give a tourist a better understanding of the community.

“If you want to discover things about the communities along Route 66 that you may not read in a book, attend a high school game and talk to your fellow spectators,” he writes.

One of the wisest decisions Clements makes in the book is interviewing several prominent people along the way. You’ll read the thoughts of Ken Leonard of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield, Illinois, who is the winningest football coach in the state and has the school’s stadium named after him. You’ll read the origins of St. Louis Blues hockey superfan Ron “Towel Man” Baechle. Mitch Strohman, a play-by-play announcer at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, talks about the region’s deeply ingrained Route 66 culture. Los Angeles County Route 66 expert Scott Piotrowski muses about the Dodgers baseball team and its minor-league affiliates in three other Route 66 towns. Those stories add to the richness of “A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66.”

The book contains maps, a multitude of color photos and addresses to each significant Route 66 point of interest in those eight states. But it’s the stories and Clements’ writing that will keep readers engaged. And because Route 66 contains a wealth of sports options for any season, many readers undoubtedly will be inspired to plan road trips with sports in mind.

Highly recommended.

One thought on “Book review: “A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66”

  1. Sounds like a great addition to my Route 66 library. Just surprised this reviewer didn’t mention baseball superstar Mickey Mantle (Commerce, OK) when mentioning star athletes such as golfer Hale Irwin and baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson. I gotta think Mickey is included in the book. I wish the reviewer had mentioned him.

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