Don't Take Their Word for It: The Geographic Lies of Sports and Airports
August 27, 2019 5:00 AM
by John Hook
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Did you spend part of this past Sunday afternoon glued to your television or computer watching the championship game of the Little League World Series, that late summer rite of passage for youngsters all over the globe?

Starting on Aug. 15 and culminating with the crowning of a true “world” champion 10 days later, the Little League World Series is a great celebration of a sport played by millions of kids. Eight teams from the United States and eight international teams play tournament games, with the top team from the U.S. facing the top international team for the grand prize. And to make it more fun, in 2021 the Series will expand to 20 teams.

Having grown up near where the Series is played, as a kid I got to see a lot of the games every year. It was a great way to pass the time during those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. I watched many early-round games while sliding down the hills just beyond the outfield fences on flattened cardboard boxes. Even all these years later not much has changed in that area so I’m very familiar with everything near the Little League baseball complex — the roads, hotels, stores, and fast-food places. And the Susquehanna River.

If you watched any of the games the last two weeks you saw that the broadcast network for the Little League World Series used graphics touting the location of the event as Williamsport, PA, which makes sense since Little League’s own logo for the World Series clearly states “Williamsport, PA”.

Except, the Little League World Series does not take place in Williamsport, PA.

That river I mentioned above is the dividing line between Williamsport and South Williamsport. The entire Little League complex – headquarters, baseball fields, housing – is on the south side of the Susquehanna River in South Williamsport. And the Little League World Series has been played there for 60 years.  

Some news outlets do correctly byline their stories from South Williamsport – props to you, Associated Press – but how are we to expect the media to accurately identify geographic locations if the people responsible for those locations can’t be bothered to do so? Are we all tacitly agreeing that this type of geographic white lie is acceptable? That, with a tip of the hat to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend?” Are we OK with this type of transgression, however minor some might feel it to be?

We must be, because all over the country we’ve accepted this sort of geographic misstatement for decades. In 1983, several friends and I trekked to the Meadowlands Sports Complex to watch the defending national champion Penn State Nittany Lion football team take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Kickoff Classic. We left sad and wet. But the Meadowlands was not normally a college football stadium. Its primary purpose was serving as the home stadium for two NFL teams – the New York Jets and the New York Giants. Did I happen to mention that the Meadowlands is in East Rutherford, N.J., eight miles from New York City? Not only do these teams play home games someplace other than their namesake city, but across a river and in another state.

Sports teams playing in venues outside their namesake city limits happens more than you might think. In the NFL alone you have the Miami Dolphins playing north of the city in Miami Gardens (at least Miami is in the name); the Dallas Cowboys playing west of the city in Arlington; the Washington Redskins playing east of the city in Landover, Maryland; and the San Francisco 49ers playing well south of the city in Santa Clara. At least the Kansas City Chiefs play in a stadium in Kansas City. The only catch is it’s Kansas City, Missouri, not Kansas City, Kansas. 

Sports teams are not the only transgressors here. Airports have a way of playing a little loose with their geographic naming – because they often serve an “area” and the airport name needs to reflect that area rather than the specific city where your plane lands. Also the need for two miles of unobstructed land for a runway means downtowns are generally off-limits. But a few still bend these boundaries a little too far. My favorite is the Cincinnati airport. Of course it’s not in Cincinnati. But guess what, it’s not even in Ohio. It’s across the river in Kentucky. And Kansas City pops up on this list as well as the airport is in Missouri, not Kansas. How depressing this must be for Kansans. All the popular Kansas City things are in Kansas City, Missouri, not Kansas City, Kansas.

Even locally we get things confused with our airport, which is located in Benner Township. The three-letter International Air Transport Association airport code for our local airport is SCE, which one would correctly assume stands for State College, and are the letters that will be affixed to your luggage as it leaves or arrives there. However the Federal Aviation Administration’s identifier for the airport is UNV, which is short for University Park airport – which is the name on the sign in front of the airport. So, what to call it to sort out this confusion? Maybe Happy Valley airport. (HVL is available as an IATA code and FAA identifier!)

As long as we’re mentioning those airports with a geographic issue, we should give credit where credit is due. Salt Lake City Airport often gets recognized as one of the airports in the world most closely located to its city-center – only three miles from the airport to central Salt Lake City. Maybe the Utahns are on to something?

But whether it’s baseball fields, football stadiums or airports, at this time in history, when the supposed ability to discern truth from fiction can be done by the masses in moments, and the results polarize and inflame millions, what are permitting when this sort of clearly incorrect language just goes on with nary a word from anyone? Words have meanings, and as a sage local scholar once opined, “Sloppiness is a disease… It’s the little things that give you an edge.” Shouldn’t we model good geography for kids everywhere and get our locations in order?

Maybe next year that Little League logo will sport the name South Williamsport?


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