Rock Hill lauded as sports city

Thanks to George Valentine (43) and the Winthrop men's basketball team, Rock Hill ranks No. 149 as a U.S. sports city.
Thanks to George Valentine (43) and the Winthrop men's basketball team, Rock Hill ranks No. 149 as a U.S. sports city.

SATURDAY October 11, 2008

Rock Hill might not be known as a sports powerhouse, but it's moving up.

The Sporting News recently released its annual list of Best Sports Cities and has Rock Hill at No. 149 out of 400.

The reason? Win-throp University.

Bill Hille, chief of correspondents for The Sporting News, and a recent transplant to Rock Hill, said the city landed a spot on the list because of the success of Winthrop's men's and women's basketball teams last season and the strength of Winthrop's conference, the Big South.

Winthrop's men's team was the Big South champion again last season and made its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the team's eighth appearance in 10 years. The past two appearances have included significant national exposure that got the Rock Hill name out to the masses like never before, as Winthrop built a reputation as a scrappy yet formidable underdog.

Meanwhile, the women's team also thrived last season, securing several school records, including most wins and most Big South Conference wins.

Winthrop athletic director Tom Hickman said the inclusion on The Sporting News' list is an honor and that it's "certainly a compliment to be included that high up."

Though the success of the basketball teams might get the most attention, Hickman said, other Winthrop sports also are gaining in popularity. The school sees good crowds for soccer and recently set an attendance record for a home volleyball game, he said.

"People are finally seeing the level of play and competition that we have here," Hickman said.

Contributing to Winthrop's growing athletic reputation -- and possibly its ranking in the Best Sports Cities list -- is a community that feels connected to the teams, Hickman said.

"More and more Winthrop alums have settled in the Rock Hill area," he said. "There's a stronger link now between the community and university than maybe there was in the past."

Rock Hill's latest Sporting News ranking actually isn't the city's highest ever. It ranked 148 in 2005. It's lowest ranking this decade was in 2004 when it was listed at 194.

The Charlotte-based magazine bases the rankings on factors such as won-lost records, post-season appearances, number of teams and attendance.

The goal, Hille said, is to emphasize "quality over quantity."

To qualify for the list, a city must at least have a Division I basketball team or be a training site for a major professional sports league. A city can earn points for hosting big-time events such as the PGA tournament or a Triple Crown horse race.

"Sorry, the disc golf championship doesn't count," Hille wrote in an e-mail to The Herald, referring to the U.S. Disc Golf Championship hosted annually at Winthrop.

Rock Hill might never be Boston (No. 1 on TSN's list), Chicago (No. 9) or even Charlotte (No. 35), and it's got a long way to go before it matches Clemson (No. 62) or Columbia (No. 89), but the city's sports atmosphere is gaining attention.

So take that, Charleston (No. 228).

2007: Didn't make top 150

2006: Didn't make top 99

2005: 148 out of 400

2004: 194 out of 400

2003: 183 out of 400

2002: 176 out of 400

2001: 169 out of 400

2000: 155 out of 400