I always love the questions I get after someone hears I'm from Warren.
"Do you know Maurice Clarett?"
"Isn't that all farm country?"
"Isn't that corrupt politician from there?"
Oh yeah, that one.
It gets even get better when they don't know Warren, but they've heard of Youngstown.
"Dude, are you in the mob?"
"Do you own a bullet-proof vest?"
"So, you're Italian."
Answers: No, no, and yes.
But nine times out of 10, and whether someone knows Warren or Youngstown, some sort of statement will be made on the fact that I'm from a football town. And going back on years of tradition, they are right.
But my friends, I see the tide changing. And it's shifting to a softball diamond near you. Because when it comes to representation at the state tournament, softball is leading the way.
Now, before the uproar starts about how these are two totally different sports, played amongst different genders with totally different demands, I would like to clarify. I'm not saying one is better, easier or more difficult than the other. They both require a certain set of skills, knowledge and preparation that make them unique in their own right.
Also, I realize the process of getting to the state tournament is completely different in the two sports. With softball, everyone gets in the tournament at the sectional level and many years it has a lot to do with luck of the draw as to which teams have better seeding, get in a weaker bracket or just happen to have an easier road to regionals.
But by regionals, only the teams that are supposed to be there are. In football, they just get rid of the undeserving teams earlier.
Back to my point. I'm just saying when it comes to dominance in team sports over recent years, softball has every right to be synonymous with the Mahoning Valley as our beloved football.
I know back in the day and long before my existence came to be, this town was football all day and all night. As soon as the season ended, people were talking about the next. That's still the case. If you don't believe me, go to jjhuddle.com.
But in recent years, more softball teams in the Mahoning Valley can say they are state semifinalists than any other team sport, including our beloved football.
Since 2000, eight different schools have made it to the state softball semifinals - Boardman, Maplewood, LaBrae, Champion, John F. Kennedy, Poland, Canfield and Ursuline - with Boardman and Champion making multiple appearances.
In that list, Boardman, Poland, Champion and now Ursuline, have all been state runners-up, while Boardman and Canfield won in 2001 and 2008, respectively.
Since 2000, there have been only two years, '03 and '07, when a Trumbull or Mahoning County team has not made it to the state tournament. And now with the success of Ursuline, it has been two years in a row with a team in the state final.
Now, on the pigskin side of things, the representation has been there, but by far fewer schools. Over the past nine years, only Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, Canfield, Cardinal Mooney and Ursuline have made a trip to the state tournament. The only gap in those years came in 2001, but that had largely to do with Mooney's unheard of four-year straight stint at the state championship game.
Other sports don't even have room to be in the same conversation. Again, since 2000, only three Trumbull and Mahoning County schools have been to Columbus for boys basketball (Bristol, Poland and Harding); four in girls basketball, and all from Mahoning County (Canfield, Poland, Ursuline and Boardman); and four in baseball (Champion, Ursuline, Canfield and Boardman).
And looking into my crystal ball, I don't see the the dominance of softball stopping any time soon. Ursuline has more than a good chance to head back to the state tournament, losing just two seniors and returning pitcher Casey Lower. Champion returns All-Ohio honorable mention pitcher Lindsay Swipas and an arsenal of offense behind her. Plus, Poland's Erin Gabriel might be one of the most dominant pitchers in the state, and she's only a sophomore. I foresee many return trips to Akron for myself in the next few years.
Football might be the Mahoning Valley pastime. But softball is becoming the future.
Sulonen is a sports writer at the Tribune. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org