Pharos-Tribune

October 10, 2013

The United Sports of America: What should your state's official sport be?

By Josh Levin
Slate

— If the United States had an official sport, what would it be? Baseball can call itself the national pastime until the sun burns out, but the correct answer is good old American football. Next question: If every state in the union had to choose an official sport, what would they pick? Football, football, lacrosse, football, skiing, football, football . . . and Alaska gets the one with sled dogs. But what if you had to assign one sport to each state, and could use each of those sports just once? How would you disperse our favorite pastimes among the 50 states and Washington?

Now that's a more interesting parlor game. Only 12 states have bothered to name any kind of "official sport," which leaves a lot of room to impose one's sporting will on the American people. Alas, there must be rules, lest this barroom argument descend into anarchy. Here are my four commandants.

1. No two states can have the same sport. The most important rule of them all. If we declare that Calvinball belongs to West Virginia, then it's off the board — no other state can have it.

2. Sports can be atomized. An immediate exception to Rule No. 1. Some states prefer college football to pro, some prefer high school basketball to college. Allowing different states to own different flavors of the same sport reflects the reality of the American landscape. It also makes it possible to create a map without stooping to include "sports" like pinochle and punch buggy.

3. A sport can be anything that is plausibly a sport. Yeah, punch buggy and high-speed multiplication probably shouldn't count, but I'm no stickler. Competition is a necessity, but sticks and balls are not required. Wife-carrying, chess boxing, noodling — you're all welcome (at least theoretically) in these United Sports of America. But I draw the line at metaphors. However fitting it may seem, politics is not and will not be the official sport of Washington.

4. Official state sports will be honored if possible. But it's not always possible. South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming all chose rodeo as an official sport, but only one state can be America's true rodeo king. (Rodeo fight!)

With those ground rules established, I got to choosing, with some help from colleagues. (Still recovering from an email debate that destroyed an entire afternoon of workplace productivity and led one Ohio resident to insist that grievous harm had been done to the Buckeye State.)

Surprisingly, we had a bunch of respectable sports left over: pro basketball, swimming, indoor and beach volleyball, softball, bowling, table tennis, water polo, figure skating, fencing, badminton, diving, windsurfing, shooting, mixed martial arts. Want to pop any of those sports in or switch other ones around?

Alabama

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: college football

Also considered: none

Lots of states would love to claim college football, but this one isn't much of a contest. Yes, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide (three) and Auburn University Tigers (one) have claimed the last four BCS titles. But the deciding factor here is spring football attendance: What state turns out when the games don't count in the standings? In 2013, Auburn had 83,401 fans at its spring game and Alabama packed in 78,315. The next three contenders for the pointless-crowd crown: the University of Tennessee (61,076), University of Nebraska (60,174), and University of Arkansas (51,088). If you want to take down the Heart of Dixie, you've got to do a much more convincing job embracing meaninglessness.

Alaska

Official state sport(s): mushing

Our choice: mushing

Also considered: none

The easiest of our 51 selections. The state sport is mushing. Nobody much cares about it anywhere else. It's all yours, Alaska. Stay warm.

Arizona

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: spring training baseball

Also considered: golf

Is this choice lame? Possibly. Is it defensible? Absolutely. Arizona's Cactus League hosts 15 major-league teams each February and March, drawing a record 1.7 million fans in 2013. Spring training baseball is an ingrained part of the state's culture, with ballclubs coming to train in the desert since 1929. (You can learn more by taking a walk on the Cactus League legacy trail.) Though Florida's Grapefruit League has an even longer history, it doesn't make sense to grant spring training baseball to the Sunshine State. To build a sensible map, we need a comprehensive strategy. Florida, everyone would surely acknowledge, could reasonably be granted any number of sports, while the Grand Canyon State is relatively sports-poor. Spring training baseball needs Arizona, and Arizona surely needs spring training baseball.

Arkansas

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: duck hunting

Also considered: duck calling, trout fishing, deer hunting, greyhound racing

How do you solve a problem like Arkansas? The flagship university's football and men's basketball teams are the state's most popular athletic institutions, but Razorback fandom doesn't rate nationally. Arkansas is one of the few states where greyhound racing is still legal, but Southland Park's slot machines are far more popular than its canine athletes. Sports Illustrated's 50th anniversary sports across America project — an invaluable resource for this whole enterprise — notes that Stuttgart, Ark., hosts "the world's most resounding duck calling contest." After many minutes of deliberations, I concluded with some regret that duck calling is not a sport. But duck hunting? Sure. If there's any doubt, consider the existence of Greenhead, "the Arkansas duck hunting magazine." The Natural State has its pick.

California

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: skateboarding

Also considered: water polo, beach volleyball, surfing, swimming

A hulking, populous landmass that's overstuffed with sun- and chlorine-drenched pursuits. Beach volleyball — which was birthed in Santa Monica in the 1920s and 1930s — is a strong contender but ultimately falls short on account of its relative dearth of competitors. Skateboarding has similarly local origins and is arguably the state's most enduring cultural export. Fast-forward 50 years, and I guarantee that the state flag will feature a bear doing an ollie.

Colorado

Official state sport(s): skiing and snowboarding

Our choice: mountain climbing

Also considered: skiing, snowboarding, Olympic sports

In 2008, the Colorado state legislature named skiing and snowboarding as "the official state winter recreational sports." The will of the people must be defied here, because: 1) It's just plain greedy to claim skiing and snowboarding. 2) Naming them the "official state winter recreational sports" betrays a disturbing lack of decisiveness. (Should we anticipate that the legislature will soon name Colorado's official state autumn competitive sports?) Our choice: mountain climbing. Colorado has 53 fourteeners — that is, 14,000-foot peaks that also have at least 300 feet of "topographic prominence" — far more than any other state. Is mountain climbing a sport? I say yes — there's a goal, it requires great skill, it's a physical challenge, and there's an international federation that's guided by the Olympic charter

Connecticut

Official state sport(s): squash

Our choice: squash

Also considered: women's college basketball

Nutmeg State residents will argue that Geno Auriemma's University of Connecticut Huskies, the winners of eight national titles since 1995, are the center of the state's sporting universe. That's true and all, but Connecticut isn't the only state that loves women's basketball — and UConn, it must be said, hasn't led the nation in women's basketball attendance since 2003. The Trinity College Bantams men's squash team is an even bigger dynasty than UConn women's hoops. And who broke Trinity's 252-match winning streak, the longest in intercollegiate sports history? New Haven's Yale University Bulldogs. The Trinity-Yale rivalry has spawned some memorable squash trash talk. (I'm guessing that the phrase "squash trash talk" has never been uttered in any other state.) There are 17 Connecticut schools in the New England Interscholastic Squash Association, the most of any state. And Connecticut also recently hosted the junior nationals and the high school team championships, the world's biggest squash tournament. Want to defy the hoity-toity New England stereotype, Connecticut? Take off the protective eyewear and the Boast polo and we can talk.

Delaware

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: pumpkin chunking

Also considered: cycling

Hi, we're in Delaware. Not so much to see here. Wilmington hosts an annual grand prix cycling race, but I don't get the sense that the First State loves bicycles. The southern part of the state is, however, the home base for the annual Punkin Chunkin World Championship, a competition to catapult a pumpkin as far as it will go. (The current record distance at the world championships is 4,483.51 feet.) This is Delaware culture at its finest. It also may be Delaware culture in its entirety.

District of Columbia

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: kickball

Also considered: soccer, softball

In 1998, a group of friends started the World Adult Kickball Association in Washington. Seven years later, a new league called DCKickball rolled out its own set of bouncy balls. Then, in what might be the most D.C. thing that's ever happened, WAKA sued DCKickball for copyright infringement, alleging that the newcomer had stolen its rules. The case was dismissed in 2008, and both leagues continue to abet the drunken recreation of young professionals. Take a walk in wonk-land on a summer evening, and chances are you'll see a guy with his work ID on a lanyard flapping his limbs in the direction of a large red ball.

Florida

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: jai alai

Also considered: tennis, sport fishing, swimming, golf

Jai alai isn't the most popular sport in Florida, but it is the most Florida of sports: exotic, peculiar, and terrifying to outsiders. The fastest sport in the world may be barely clinging to life, but near-death experiences are the essence of the Sunshine State. Besides, consider this thought experiment: You call a friend and tell him you're at a jai alai fronton — what does he say? There's just one right answer: "What the hell are you doing in Florida?"

Georgia

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: tennis

Also considered: high school baseball

Florida plays host to a major international tennis tournament. It's the home of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, where Andre Agassi and Monica Seles were molded into No. 1 players. Even foreign stars like Andy Murray relocate to Florida to train. So why does Georgia get tennis? Because every state needs a sport, and Georgia — though perhaps lacking its Southern neighbor's racket pedigree — is home to the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, an 80,000-member strong organization that claims to be "the largest community-based tennis organization in the U.S." Atlanta also has the highest number of USTA members per capita in the United States. And it doesn't hurt that the No. 1 American man, John Isner, knocked the fuzzy yellow ball around for the University of Georgia. That's good enough for me.

Hawaii

Official state sport(s): surfing and outrigger canoe paddling

Our choice: surfing

Also considered: outrigger canoe paddling, golf

Hawaii's official team sport is outrigger canoe paddling, while its official individual sport is surfing. While I considered giving the state outrigger canoeing — because, hey, why not — surfing is synonymous with the archipelago, and for good reason. The sport was practiced in ancient Hawaii and popularized worldwide by Hawaiians. The state is also home to the world's most legendary waves. Care to argue that point California, Tahiti, South Africa, and Australia? Give me five minutes and I'll round up a couple of thousand dudes in board shorts who'll set you straight.

Idaho

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: whitewater kayaking

Also considered: none

According to the Gem State's tourism site, Idaho has "more whitewater river miles than anywhere in the lower 48 states." Way to go, Idaho!

Illinois

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: 16-inch softball

Also considered: pro basketball, pro baseball, pro hockey

You wouldn't think the Land of Lincoln would be so tough to pin down, but Illinois is an Arkansas-esque conundrum. Everyone loves the Bulls, but would the state swoon over basketball if the Trail Blazers had drafted Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie? The Cubs, too are a local institution, not to mention that the White Sox are also a team that exists. But consider that, owing to the power of radio waves, large swaths of the state root for the St. Louis Cardinals, a fact that I find confusing and frankly disqualifying. And though the Blackhawks have been quite successful in recent years, the team ranked second-to-last in the NHL in attendance as recently as 2007. That leaves us with 16-inch softball, a pastime unique to Chicago. Also known as mushball or cabbageball, the gloveless game was the beloved sport of columnist Mike Royko. There is no better choice.

Indiana

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: high school basketball

Also considered: IndyCar racing

It's a two-sport race in the Hoosier State. You can make a very strong case for IndyCar racing, which includes a reference to Indianapolis in its name, for heaven's sake. But despite the enduring allure of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IndyCar series as a whole is an afterthought even in Indiana. The only way high school basketball will be an afterthought here is if an asteroid obliterates the entire state, and even then I'm guessing some kid in French Lick will emerge from the crater and try to dribble what's left of the asteroid. This is the home of Damon Bailey and enormous high school gyms. And Hoosiers. Don't you dare forget Hoosiers.

Iowa

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: wrestling

Also considered: none

Iowa has a branch of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the greatest college wrestling program of all time (the Iowa Hawkeyes, winners of 23 titles since 1975), and produced the greatest college wrestler ever (Cael Sanderson, who went 159-0 at Iowa State University), as well as the sport's most commanding figure (Dan Gable, who wrestled for Iowa State and built the Iowa dynasty as a coach). With the sport under siege by the International Olympic Committee, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, told The Wall Street Journal that Iowa without wrestling is like "eggs without bacon." Thank goodness wrestling stayed in the Olympics — Iowa's bacon has been saved.

Kansas

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: men's college basketball

Also considered: none

The Sunflower State loves its college hoops_James Naismith, Phog Allen, "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk," Danny Manning, etc. University of Kansas Jayhawks supporters will see this and crow that they've been anointed the best fans in all the land. That's not what's going on here. Kansas gets the nod because, as opposed to Kentucky and North Carolina, it's otherwise a sports wasteland. It's college basketball or bust here, and this is a parlor game where everybody gets a trophy. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.

Kentucky

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: Thoroughbred horse racing

Also considered: men's college basketball

The Kentucky Derby and Calumet Farm outrace John Calipari and his team of semi-professional University of Kentucky Wildcats. With college hoops' possession arrow necessarily pointing toward Kansas, this is a Secretariat-esque rout.

Louisiana

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: bass fishing

Also considered: college baseball

Louisianans like me take pride in the fact that we've got the most NFL players per capita of any state. Lousiana State University's Tiger Stadium, too, is often cited as the best place in the country to watch a game, not to mention the best place to eat in the parking lot before a game. But such is my intellectual honesty that I can admit that the Pelican State does not deserve a slice of the football pie. It says Sportsman's Paradise on the license plates here, at least until it gets replaced by some quote from Duck Dynasty. With duck hunting a better fit for Arkansas, I'll go with bass fishing, as the state has hosted the Bassmaster Classic — "the Super Bowl of bass fishing" — in three of the last five years.

Maine

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: biathlon

Also considered: college hockey, snowmobiling, kayaking

Maine would love to get college hockey, sure, but I'm going to go off the board here and honor a strange state initiative. As The New York Times noted in 2010, the nonprofit Maine Winter Sports Center is hoping to turn the state into a biathlon mecca. That's a weird thing to hope for, but cold weather makes you do weird things. Perhaps because there's not much competition to become America's cross-country-skiing-and-shooting hotbed, it seems to be working: Maine now hosts major international biathlon competitions and the majority of the 2010 Olympic team lived and trained in the state.

Maryland

Official state sport(s): lacrosse, jousting

Our choice: lacrosse

Also considered: jousting

An obvious choice made slightly more difficult by the fact that the Free State was the first in the nation to name an official sport, in 1962 — and it was jousting. (Lacrosse was named Maryland's official team sport in 2004.) Considering that the National Jousting Hall of Fame is in Virginia, it's only fair for the governors of those two states to joust for custody of jousting. In the meantime, Maryland can keep its other official sport. The Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum is in Baltimore, the NCAA championships are often held in the city's M&T Bank Stadium, and Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and Loyola University have won a combined 12 national titles since 1973.

Massachusetts

Official state sport(s): basketball

Our choice: marathon

Also considered: pro basketball, pro baseball

Massachusetts' official state sport is basketball, which makes some sense considering the game was invented here. The Boston Celtics are also pro basketball's greatest franchise, claiming the most championships in NBA history. James Naismith, though, was born in Canada and spent much of his life in Lawrence, Kan. — let's not give all of basketball to the Bay State just because some Canadian physical-education teacher happened to be at a YMCA in Springfield, Mass., when he hung up his peach baskets. And though the Celtics are a hot ticket, the Boston Red Sox are clearly a more significant cultural force: There is no Celtics Nation. With pro basketball and pro baseball canceling each other out, I choose to honor the world's oldest and most prestigious annual marathon. The Boston Marathon is New England's largest spectator sport, hosted the fastest marathon ever run, and has taken on even greater significance after 2013's terrorist attack. The marathon is our only choice.

Michigan

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: pro ice hockey

Also considered: deer hunting

According to HuntStats.com, Michigan leads the nation with an average season harvest of 495,303 whitetail deer. Ted Nugent also has a farm here, which would be worth a billion bonus points if we were playing Big Buck Hunter right now. But, alas, this complex puzzle demands that the deer must be shot elsewhere. Thankfully, we've got a backup plan. Detroit, like lots of other cities, calls itself Hockeytown. In this case, the name fits. The Detroit Red Wings are one of the NHL's Original Six teams and are always near the top of the league's attendance ledger. Michigan might not be America's hockey mecca, but when it comes to the pro game, it is our octopus-flinging king.

Minnesota

Official state sport(s): ice hockey

Our choice: high school ice hockey

Also considered: none

Now this is America's ice hockey mecca. It would be reasonable to bestow the entire sport upon Minnesota, but splitting the puck is essential if we want to complete this vexing project. The Land of 10,000 Lakes gets the high school game, which transfixes the state each March with a tournament that draws more than 100,000 fans.

Mississippi

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: deer hunting

Also considered: none

Ted Nugent lives in Michigan, not Mississippi. But the latter state's Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks is proud to report that Outdoor Life magazine recently rated the Magnolia State seventh in the nation on its "whitetail scale," which factors in the size of the local bucks, hunter density, cost of outfitted hunts, and "hunter friendliness." As an expert in sadeermetrics, I'd argue that Mississippi should be even higher. The HuntStats.com top 10 rankings for whitetail kills place Mississippi at No. 7, but based on my calculations the state is No. 1 in whitetails bagged per capita. Come on down here, Motor City Madman_the deer are just waiting to be shot!

Missouri

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: pro baseball

Also considered: none

Cardinals backers love to laud themselves as the country's greatest, most knowledgeable baseball fans. Though I hate to reward such pridefulness, it's undeniable that_as compared to promiscuous Bay Staters, who love the Sox, but also the New England Patriots, the Celts, and the Boston Bruins — the Show Me State's relationship with the national pastime is a monogamous one. The Kansas City Royals also play here, and as noted in the Illinois entry, Missouri has even succeeded in recruiting much of that state to join its baseball militia. Brainwashing of that order must be rewarded

Montana

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: fly fishing

Also considered: six-man football

I went to Montana once, and a hotel clerk told me they used to keep copies of Norman Maclean's fly-fishing novel A River Runs Through It for guests to peruse. They had to stop, though, because visitors kept stealing them as souvenirs. Montana is also one of the few states that plays six-man football. Brad Pitt never starred in a movie about it, though, so it doesn't really rate.

Nebraska

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: college baseball

Also considered: college football, six-man football

Nebraska worships the Cornhuskers football team, but Alabama's gridiron fandom is objectively more terrifying. Six-man football was invented here, but there are only around a dozen teams in the entire state. And then there's college baseball, a sport that's ragingly unpopular most everywhere else but flourishes in Omaha. The city has hosted the College World Series since 1950 and has a deal in place with the NCAA to keep it until at least 2035. Omaha opened a new ballpark for the CWS in 2011, and the event keeps on setting attendance records. Those non-wood bats are all yours, Nebraska.

Nevada

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: boxing

Also considered: poker, drag racing

Americans may not be as sweet on the sweet science as they used to be, but Vegas is still the place to see people punch each other in the face. Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear in Nevada, and this is where "fan man" parachuted into the ring during Holyfield's title fight with Riddick Bowe. Boxing is weird.

New Hampshire

Official state sport(s): skiing

Our choice: cross-country skiing

Also considered: downhill skiing

The official state sport is skiing. Please be more specific, New Hampshire — you're going to need to share with the other cold states. The Granite State features some of the country's best cross-country skiing trails and resorts, and cross-country skiing is generally regarded as the flintiest of winter sports. Be warned, visitors: If you cross into Maine, the cross-country skiers over there have rifles.

New Jersey

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: youth soccer

Also considered: fencing, field hockey

There's a long, proud soccer tradition in the Garden State. The first intercollegiate match, between Princeton University and Rutgers University, was played here in 1876, and the sport's first domestic governing body, the American Football Association, was founded in Newark in 1884. More recently, Pele and the New York Cosmos actually called New Jersey home, playing their home games at the Meadowlands. Rather than give New Jersey every last piece of the beautiful game, let's salute the state's preeminence youth soccer. The men's national team's rebirth in the early 1990s was fueled by three fellows reared in New Jersey: Tab Ramos, John Harkes, and Tony Meola. The current women's national player pool includes six players from the state, more than any place else save California. Enjoy those orange slices, New Jersey — you've earned them.

New Mexico

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: hot-air ballooning

Also considered: none

Is hot-air ballooning a sport? Not really. Is New Mexico a state? All signs point to yes. Does the Land of Enchantment have a thing for ginormous balloons? It certainly does. Are there any better options? Nope.

New York

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: streetball

Also considered: handball

Handball is a more uniquely New York phenomenon and New York City basketball isn't what it used to be. But Dyckman is still Dyckman and Rucker Park is still Rucker Park, the place where NBA champs go to prove themselves against the local talent. When Kobe Bryant heads to Tulsa, Okla. to test his mettle, then we can talk about demoting New York. Until then, NYC rules the blacktop.

North Carolina

Official state sport(s): stock car racing

Our choice: stock car racing

Also considered: women's soccer, men's college basketball

A bunch of schoolchildren lobbied the state to make stock car racing North Carolina's official sport, and the legislature acceded to their wishes in 2011. (This was a vindication for the kids' teacher, who told the Charlotte Observer that a previous class "wanted to make the apple the state fruit, but before they had the chance to pursue it, the General Assembly went with the scuppernong grape instead.") The kids got this one right: The NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte, the vast majority of NASCAR teams are based here, and racing icons Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt were born in the Tar Heel State.

North Dakota

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: college hockey

Also considered: curling

People like curling here, but they're way, way more into University of North Dakota ice hockey. And who can blame them, considering that the Ralph Engelstad Arena_known as the "Taj Mahal of Hockey"_features leather seats for each spectator. During the 2012-13 season, an average of 11,592 fans per game nestled into leather to watch the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux. That figure led the nation, outpacing allegedly hockey-mad Minnesota by more than 1,500 fans per contest. The Gophers clearly need more comfortable seats.

Ohio

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: cornhole

Also considered: soap box derby, high school football

A controversial selection but one that's backed by unimpeachable logic. Ohio has one of the nation's finest high school football traditions, and everyone should please let me know as soon as that tradition is highlighted in a hit book, movie, and TV show in which everyone is always saying "Ohio forever." Cornhole, by contrast, is ascendant. The beanbag-tossing game, which some believe arced into existence in Cincinnati, has softly descended into bars, frat houses, picnic areas, tailgates, and backyards nationwide. The Ohio-based American Cornhole Organization holds an annual world championship, which drew players from around the country to the greater Cincinnati area this July. In 10 years, I'd guess, cornhole will be a multibillion dollar industry, and Ohio's beanbag-based economy will lead an American industrial resurgence.

Oklahoma

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: gymnastics

Also considered: noodling, wrestling

Noodling_also known as hillbilly handfishing, cat-daddling, tickling_is a thing that some Oklahomans do. To learn more about the people who like to grab enormous fish with their bare hands, check out the documentary Okie Noodling. But there's more to the Sooner State than catfisting. (That's another, grosser name for noodling. Other names for the sport include grabbling, hogging . . .) Oklahoma also happens to be, as Sports Illustrated has pointed out, a gymnastics stronghold. The University of Oklahoma men's team has won eight national titles, and two-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller grew up and trained in Edmond. The magazine International Gymnast is also published here, and its offices are located on a street named after 1984 gold medalist Bart Conner. Conner has a gymnastics academy in Norman, where he lives with his wife Nadia Comaneci, the first woman to score a perfect 10 in the Olympics. The importation of Romania's best vaults gymnastics to the top. Sorry, catfisting.

Oregon

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: track and field

Also considered: pro soccer, pro basketball

Portland calls itself "Soccer City USA," and the Trail Blazers sold out every game from 1977 to 1995, the second-longest streak in major North American pro sports. But Oregon does not belong to MLS or the NBA. Steve Prefontaine was born here and ran at Hayward Field, far and away the best venue for track and field in the United States. The shaggy-haired hero helped popularize the running shoes made by Nike, the local footwear concern founded by University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and a one-time Oregon runner named Phil Knight. More recently, ex-Duck Ashton Eaton was propelled by the Hayward crowd to set a decathlon world record. "This is a magical place," he said afterward. Nike is now trying to bottle that magic with its Oregon Project, a push to return the United States to distance running preeminence.

Pennsylvania

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: field hockey

Also considered: Little League baseball

An upset victory for a sport that nobody in America plays after high school. There are more high school field hockey players in the Keystone State than anywhere else, and 12 of the top 25 teams in the 2012 high school rankings were Pennsylvania schools. At the senior level — yes, there is a senior level — 14 of the 30 women on the U.S. national team hail from Pennsylvania. If you're a woman and you want to run all hunched over while carrying a stick, it's clear which state is right for you.

Rhode Island

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: sailing

Also considered: tennis

This adorable little state is the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which is odd considering that nobody in Rhode Island cares about tennis. People come here to sail, and Newport hosts a whole bunch of races if you're into that sort of thing. The Laser New England Masters sounds amazing. Actually, never mind — it's that other kind of Laser.

South Carolina

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: golf

Also considered: none

Golf Digest ranks South Carolina as the country's No. 2 golf state (behind only Hawaii) based on "top public courses per capita." The Myrtle Beach area alone has more than 100 courses, which seems like a massive waste of space. Then again, I don't play golf. Please feel free to play through.

South Dakota

Official state sport(s): rodeo

Our choice: rodeo

Also considered: none

South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming have all chosen rodeo as an official sport. Which state deserves to lasso the rodeo crown? I have no idea. What I do know is that there are absolutely no other options for South Dakota. So congratulations, people of Sioux Falls and Pierre — you are the winners by default. Yee-haw!

Tennessee

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: women's college basketball

Also considered: none

On the court, Connecticut leads its all-time series with the Tennessee Lady Volunteers 13-9. In the stands, though, the Vols are a dominant force. In 2013, Tennessee averaged 11,390 fans per game, beating out Iowa State, Louisville, Baylor, and Notre Dame for the NCAA women's basketball crowd-size championship. UConn, which won yet another NCAA title in 2013, came in sixth. And this isn't an aberration. Tennessee has had better fan support than UConn every year since 2004, and that's despite the fact that the Huskies have typically put better teams on the floor. Connecticut women's hoops fans are complacent. Tennessee fans are loyal.

Texas

Official state sport(s): rodeo and football

Our choice: high school football

Also considered: rodeo, six-man football

Let's be real: The home of Friday Night Lights was never getting rodeo.

Utah

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: church basketball

Also considered: mountain biking

The city of Moab's tourism site claims that it's the spot for "the greatest mountain biking on the planet," which is pretty impressive considering that Earth is the top mountain biking planet. Despite that intergalactic dominance, church ball is the pick here. The Deseret News reports that there were an estimated 180,000 players in Latter-Day Saints church leagues in 2009. The site Stuff Mormons Like notes that "in any given ward, there is an unspoken hierarchy of individuals who are revered: the Bishop and Bishopric, the Relief Society and Elders Quorum President, and the guy with the keys to the chapel who opens it for late night/early morning church ball." Be careful out there_missionaries can jump.

Vermont

Official state sport(s): skiing and snowboarding

Our choice: snowboarding

Also considered: downhill skiing, cross-country skiing

Another grabby state claims two official sports, forcing us to choose which one it truly deserves. The correct answer is snowboarding, which was popularized in the Green Mountain State in the late 1970s and 1980s. As Sports Illustrated's E.M. Swift laid out, Jake Burton Carpenter launched his eponymous snowboard company in Londonderry in 1977, and the first U.S. Open snowboarding championships were held near Woodstock, Vt., in 1982. Vermont's Stratton resort was also the first place to allow snowboards on ski lifts, a decision that made America totally awesome.

Virginia

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: steeplechase

Also considered: lacrosse, field hockey, youth soccer, polo, jousting

The Old Dominion is hard to grapple with. Pending the outcome of a Maryland vs. Virginia joust-off — jousting is one of Maryland's official sports, but Virginia has the National Jousting Hall of Fame — it seems most reasonable to honor the state's horsemanship. The Virginia Gold Cup is one of the country's oldest steeplechase races, the steeplechase being an event in which jockeys and their equine companions tromp through what appears to be an enormous garden full of fences and hedges while rich people in big hats mostly ignore what's going on. Now that's a sport.

Washington

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: pro soccer

Also considered: rowing

The University of Washington crew team has a long list of triumphs, tops among them an epic beatdown of a bunch of Nazis at the 1936 Olympics. But in recent decades, as the UW crew failed to thrash even a single Nazi, professional soccer has surged to the fore in the Evergreen State. If Portland is Soccer City USA, then Seattle is Soccer Megalopolis. Major League Soccer's Sounders average more than 40,000 fans per game, nearly double the attendance of any other MLS team — and that was before Seattle spent big to secure the services of Clint Dempsey. Now they just need to install some real grass at CenturyLink Field. If that doesn't happen in the next few years, then Soccer Megalopolis is getting busted back down to Soccer Hamlet.

West Virginia

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: rock climbing

Also considered: none

The Mountain State is an outdoorsy place, a great locale for caving and rafting and rock climbing. The latter of those activities is the only one that's even sort of a sport, so that's what we're going with. Go to New River Gorge and climb all day. If you don't fall to your death, give yourself a trophy.

Wisconsin

Official state sport(s): none

Our choice: pro football

Also considered: speed skating, bowling, timbersports

When I first conceived of this project, I was convinced that the NFL belonged to the entire nation rather than any particular state — that it's Football Night in America, not Football Night in Wisconsin. Upon further review, I've decided I got it wrong: The United States loves pro football, but the cheeseheads deserve to slather themselves in pigskin. The community-owned Green Bay Packers have long operated as something of a public trust, and the team's 13 league titles show that the public's trust in the franchise has been well placed. What pushed me over the edge, though, was a Wall Street Journal article with the subhead "Green Bay Is Running Out of Roads to Name After Packer Legends." Wisconsin has made its sports priority clear. Until the rest of the country names 100 percent of its major thoroughfares after coaches, quarterbacks, and linemen, America's Dairyland has pro football wrapped up.

Wyoming

Official state sport(s): rodeo

Our choice: downhill skiing

Also considered: rodeo

Sorry, Cowboy State, we gave away rodeo to a place that needed it more desperately. Wyoming may not be your first choice for a ski vacation, but it's got slopes in abundance. The Wyoming Office of Tourism has a video titled "Jackson Hole Mountain Resort: It's where the snow is!" Take note, other states: All the snow is in Wyoming. There is no other snow.