Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: Summer 'Mutts'

Summer 'Mutts'

By Jeff Mayfield

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[August 05, 2008]  The dog days of August are upon us and it is time for us to catch up a little bit in the world of sports. In this edition, we'll try to give you an update on Railer football, Illini football and basketball, the Cards, Cubs and Sox, and I'll throw out a plug for where we spent part of our vacation. Let's dive right in...

Railer football

I contacted Railsplitter football coach Jared Shaner (whom Greg Taylor and I both feel has done an admirable job at the helm) to get his first take on this year's gridders. Here are his exact words:

"I really think we are capable of having a very memorable season. The kids and coaches have been working hard throughout the summer, and I feel like we are ahead of where we have been in the past at this time. I am excited about the possibilities that we have this year, but our schedule is very tough in the CS8 and there are no 'gimmies.'"

Well said by the coach. We think that the CS8 is one of the toughest football conferences in the state to compete in, and it appears to us that the Lincoln program is headed in the right direction. We're hoping that Greg will get us a live report sometime during the first month of the season.

Illinois football

The guys will be working hard at Camp Rantoul in preparation for their opener at the end of the month versus Missouri in St. Louis. They will have their hands full with those pesky Tigers! The rest of the schedule is no bargain either, with road tilts in Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan (who schedules these things?!).

What the Illini will look like

It will be a different look without workhorse running back Rashard Mendenhall... so talking about the backfield seems like a good place to start. Look for Daniel Dufrene and Troy Pollard (if he has recovered from knee surgery) to get the majority of the carries. The reality is tough for the backs in '08. They will have to be solid to take pressure off Illini QB Juice Williams and WR Regis Benn.

Since I mentioned a wideout, who else looms as part of an important contributing receiving corps? Look for Brian Gamble, Jeff Cumberland, Marques Wilkins, and the Chris Duvalt and James to be in the mix. You may see a walk-on or two as well.

Also, give credit to the outstanding job last year's offensive line did in contributing to the team's success. This year Jon Asamoah, Ryan McDonald, Xavier Fulton, Ryan Palmer, Randall Hunt, Eric Block and a cast of others will vie to block for the versatile Illini offense. Their success may well determine Illinois' success!

Another position or positions that will need to come up big will rest in the Illini's kicking game. Only one kicker appears headed toward a scholarship, and that is Rockford Boylan's Derek Dimke.

The Illini players are chomping at the bit, looking forward to their first scrimmage on the new turf in remodeled Memorial Stadium on Aug. 16 (unfortunately closed to the public).

Illinois has a lot of work to do to get ready for an even tougher season than 2007. I believe that Greg Taylor has made an accurate call on this one when he stated during the offseason that the Illini could show lots of improvement this season while still having a worse record than last year's contingent! As for me, I'd just like to see us develop a consistent program that goes to bowl games every year. If this year's squad can accomplish that, I think this program will definitely be headed in the right direction.

Illini basketball

An Aug. 4 press conference will announce a special alumni game featuring the squads from the 1989 Flying Illini and the Orange Invasion of 2005. I believe the game will be played Sept. 13 at night (the Illini have a football game at home earlier in the day). Stay tuned for more info on that in the days ahead.

I know you want me to comment on the Jamar Smith situation... but, I'm not gonna do it. I defended him, the coach and the AD throughout the process, and the situation now... is what it is. I don't think that any good can come from harping on what should've happened or what could've happened. Surprisingly in this case, my wife may have said it best (most of the time should couldn't care less about commenting on sports) -- about a friend of ours who is in trouble for an altogether different matter. When explaining how our friend got into the dilemma now at hand, she told our son, "Our friend has made some bad choices." I think that says it all... and I'm gonna leave it right there. I'm rarely speechless, but I have nothing more to say on this.

I will say that I am really glad how far Trent Meacham came along last season. Many Illini fans had already put him out to pasture for this upcoming season (although gladly he never put himself out there), and I think he will still produce for the good guys in Orange and Blue!

NL Central Division

First of all, kudos for the Cubs, who now seem to be pulling away from the upstart Cardinals and the enigmatic Brewers. By sweeping the Brew Crew -- in Milwaukee, no less -- and taking care of business over the Bucos, the Cubs have positioned themselves nicely for the last two months. I know it is never over till it's over, but as George "Dusty" Straight said to Buddy in "Pure Country," "Yah ... it is!" In addition, props for landing Rich Harden. I was on record that that would be a good move and I think you Chicago fans will really like him.

The Cards' bullpen finally had all the wheels come off. They were leaking oil for most of the season and the wagon has nearly collapsed. Only a long, miraculous winning streak could put them back in the title hunt now. They could still have a shot at the wild card, but the bullpen will have to be rejuvenated for that to happen. Starting pitchers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright will have to approximate their old selves too to give the Redbirds a fighting chance.

Brew Crew backers in my neighborhood thought they had it made when they brought C.C. Sabathia onboard, and he has been an outstanding acquisition, but the Brewers need to shore up their defense and become a little tougher mentally to take it to the house.

The White Sox seem to be slumping too, and I sure don't want to see those twinkies in the postseason again. I really like the move that brought Ken Griffey Jr. to the South Side, and I hope he provides a spark for the Sox. But you can't look as bad against KC as Chicago did in this last series... it just can't happen!

I missed the trip to the Bears camp and the Packers' family night (we must be working too hard), so I have no reports on the NFL as of yet. We'll try to put our heads together and see what we'll have for you in the near future.

Parting shot

I'm gonna leave you with some notes I scribbled down for our friends at TripAdvisor regarding a little trip we just took to South Dakota. I know some people are still vacationing to Florida and California, etc., but we've tried to save money on that the last two summers by either staying closer to home, camping, making our own food and snacks, etc. It wasn't that far to the Black Hills; we had seen some of the sites in recent TV shows and movies; and we got to see former Lincoln Christian Seminary resident Marvin (and Marge) Flowers while we were out there. It was a great trip and I really recommend that area for a great family vacation experience.


Trip to Black Hills, S.D.

We just got back from a family trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota and it exceeded our expectations in almost every way. Don't get me wrong... like other tourist spots they've figured out how to wrestle away every dollar they can from you, but overall, the diversity of attractions, places to stay, food choices, etc. should make it enjoyable and semi-affordable (we were going to camp but fell into a resort deal that we couldn't pass up) for almost anybody. Our 7-year-old boy is very impressionable, hung up on "Star Wars," video games and Indiana Jones, and we wondered if he might think that the Old West stuff was too corny. On the contrary, he loved it.

Our review
(In completely random order)

Barefoot Resort -- Our home away from home for the week. I give it pretty high marks (and those marks may go way up after they remodel and renovate) as, for one reason, the scenic views from your balcony are spectacular. It is just outside of Lead, S.D., on the Terry Peak (ski resort) mountain. My wife would say to the husbands out there: Have your car serviced before you go on the trip (we overheated a couple of times driving through the hills and mountains). The staff at the resort is super friendly and helpful in every way. We took picnic food and snacks everywhere we went all week and saved quite a few bucks in the process.

[to top of second column]

Devil's Tower -- You have to drive a few miles into Wyoming to see America's first national park/monument, but it is well worth the drive IF you like nature, history and seeing unique landmarks and scenery. I had wanted to see it for years, ever since I watched the movie "Close Encounters," and we were not disappointed. You can hike the 1.3-mile trail (a fairly easy to moderate walk on a nice trail) and you will see some absolutely breathtaking views. The rock/tower changes as you go, the vultures are flying overhead, and you'll likely spot some wildlife on your route (take some water with you). For me, one of the highlights of our week!

Spearfish -- We attended the Passion Play (I believe they are in their 69th year at that location). While they stay true to the traditional way they have always done it (IF you are ever in Eureka Springs, Ark., see the one there -- it is really good), it was well done just the same. Our son asked lots of questions and now knows more about the last week of Jesus' life than he did before.
We ate at a place that I think was called Shoot the Bull -- really a great restaurant!

Spearfish Canyon -- When they say "scenic byway," they aren't kidding. While I agree with other posters that the Roughlock Falls are nice to see right up the dirt road, don't overlook the short hike to the Spearfish Falls with the cool bridge going across the creek. My son thought that was awesome. Others there also liked the Bridal Veil Falls.

Lead/Deadwood -- While there are probably way too many casinos and saloons, we still managed to find some family fun along the way. In fact, we attended a couple of the Days of '76 events while we were there. The parade was awesome (Old West-themed parade, unlike your local parades back home) and we attended the award-winning rodeo on Friday night. I'm not a rodeo expert, but it was as good as any nationally famous ones I've attended or seen on TV! -- reasonably priced, too!

Homestake Gold Mine/Broken Boot Gold Mine -- IF I had to choose between these two tours, I don't know which one we would've picked. They are both unique in their own ways. Homestake shows you the big hole in the middle of town, how the local economy has been affected and the many ways that they mined the gold -- as you tour through a fabricated rendition of the mine. Broken Boot actually takes you inside the actual cave/mine for their tour. You can do some gold panning at both locations, and we recommend that if you've never done it before... you can just get pans for the kids and help them unless you want to try your own luck... We found a few flakes, so my son thinks we are now rich! The old buildings/saloons, courthouse, depot, downtown streets, gunfight re-enactments (your kids can be sworn in as deputies) are all pretty fun. Don't forget that in some of the casinos they have props from Hollywood movies, massive train set displays and kid arcades in some basements, etc. You can also tour the grave sites of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. There appeared to be some nice golf tracks in the area and some fishing possibilities as well. Time did not permit exploration of either! Also, IF you are so inclined, don't forget the ghost towns of the area. While many are posted and unreachable, there are some you can get to and stomp around. We found Preston, S.D., and it was a trip highlight to just romp around the old buildings.

Mount Rushmore -- Allow yourself plenty of time at this attraction so that you are not rushed. The earlier in the morning that you can get there, the better, as you will beat the crowds. The visitor center is nice. Either purchase a headset ($5) or go on a tour with a park ranger. Make sure you walk around the trail, as you see different views and get more historical knowledge as you traverse along the path. We also made a return trip (your $10 parking pass is good for the whole year!) later in the week so that we could see the mountain all lit up at night -- that is a sight to see! Keystone had some shops and other attractions that your kids might want to see, but it was a little too congested for me. Had we stayed a day or two longer we might have taken a helicopter ride. It appeared that those rides were not as expensive as rides in the Grand Canyon, Vegas or other places we've visited, and people who took the rides were ecstatic about their adventures! We drove the Needles highway (one of the coolest and neatest drives we've ever taken) and got out and took some pictures in, around and on the needles and the tunnels. We had a lot of fun there. We also drove the Iron Mountain Road and saw some wild burros and other wildlife along the way. One of the major highlights of our trip was time spent at Sylvan Lake. You "National Treasure 2" fans will recognize it immediately, and our son loved climbing and exploring the rocks of the lake. We also swam there for two hours (so, don't forget your swimsuits, goggles, rafts, tubes, etc.) We swam out to some rocks, jumped off them and made some new friends. One regret is that we ran out of time and didn't make it to Custer -- I may not live that down. We ate supper at the Alpine Inn in Hill City and were not disappointed. I believe they have a menu for lunch but only steaks at night. Get there early as the lines are long, but the food was great!

Rapid City -- Lots more to do there than meets the eye. One overlooked spot that the little kids like is Dinosaur Park (the other parks in town were nice too). You have to keep your eyes on them so they don't fall down a hill or off a cliff, but they will love climbing on the dinos and getting their picture on them. We didn't make it to the Air and Space Museum, but others staying in our complex said that they really enjoyed it. They also liked the Cosmos experience. We ate supper one night at the Flying T Chuckwagon and singing cowboy show. There are lots of chuck wagon shows and if you like that kind of thing, you should take one in. We like to visit different churches while on the road and have to give high marks to the First Christian Church on Quincy Road (intersects with Mount Rushmore Road, I think). Very nice people and incredibly family-friendly. Also props to Northpoint in Spearfish.

Hot Springs -- My old roommate still talks about Evans Plunge, but I took my son down there to the Mammoth Site. IF you like history, paleontology, digging up bones, etc., this is the place. The only place I've ever been that I can compare it to is the Labrea tar pits of southern California. This site has some 50 mammoths that once fell in a sinkhole and couldn't get out. Their bones are almost perfectly intact, and many of them have been exposed in an indoor facility for you to see and tour in a state-of-the-art complex. I paid to have my son go on a junior dig (well worth the money; register days before you go, as dig spots are almost always sold out unless it's offseason), and he was mesmerized by the experience. The Mammoth Site staff is helpful and patient with the kids, and the digging adventure teaches them a lot. I was surprised at how the older kids got into it as much as the younger ones. We had a great time at that place. They also have a great store with some unique things for sale. One more thing for the drivers who don't like to follow slow-moving RVs and getting snarled up in traffic: You won't be able to avoid it at some spots. However, think 79 -- it is an expressway you can take south of Rapid City (and a little east of most attractions, but four-lane) and it can connect you with about any place you want to go. It will save you time and get you out of some of that nasty tourist traffic. I also liked driving on 385 -- it is scenic (you may want to stop at Lake Pactola -- what a spectacular view).

Wall/Badlands -- We only saw the Badlands from the interstate (yes, I'm in trouble with my wife 'cause I didn't want to take the loop in case our car overheated again down there). Don't be negatively influenced by some people's Wall Drug reviews. It is what it is... a unique store with lots of shops inside. You can eat there, take pictures there, play in the fountains, and it is just a great place to let kids run around in. They do have some neat fossils and dinosaur bones, etc., there too... not to mention western wear, souvenirs, etc.

We stayed in AmericInn driving across South Dakota and Minnesota. All hotels seem overpriced to me, but these seem to have clean rooms, decent pools and a hot breakfast before you leave.

In conclusion, this whole area seems to be overlooked by many vacationers, but we had one of our best vacations ever in the Black Hills. In fact, we had so much fun that we plan to put it back in our rotation and visit it again in the next few years.


That's it for me... Have a great month, everybody!


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