Some Die-Hard Fans Never Leave Their Favorite Sports Venues
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Joe Kelly won't go as far as calling Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course a burial ground.
But the 91-year-old track historian is quite sure that Willie Doyle, who rode Effendi to victory in the 1909 Preakness, isn't the only guy whose remains are mingled with the turf where the great Seabiscuit and War Admiral famously battled.
"Oh yeah, it has happened fairly often, including a couple of bettors who were very well known," Kelly says. "They figured they'd spread their money around there; may as well spread their ashes."
While Doyle's choice of Pimlico's finish line as his final resting place is among the more colorful episodes in horseracing lore, it's hardly unique. From baseball parks to football stadiums to golf courses, sporting venues regularly field requests to scatter a loved one's cremated remains at the pitcher's mound, under a goal post or on a fairway overlooking the sea -- anywhere a sports hero has trod and triumphed.
Some venues honor such requests, such as NASCAR's Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where Wayne Estes has adopted the informal role of "scattering counselor," gently proposing trackside locations with more permanence than the start-finish line family members invariably request. That might mean one of the gardens tucked beside the asphalt oval's high-banked turns or, for fans of the late Dale Earnhardt, the landscaped border beneath the grandstand that bears the seven-time champion's name.
"If this place means that much to somebody, it's the least we can do," says Estes, vice president of events at the fan-friendly track.
Big-time college football programs -- Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida, to name a few -- flatly refuse, citing everything from sanitation to sheer volume.
"We just haven't been in the business of accommodating that because I don't know that we're in a position of encouraging that," says Notre Dame spokesman John Heisler, adding that Roman Catholic Church policy holds that scattering isn't the proper way to honor the dead.
Still, an untold number of fans find ways of sprinkling a bit of Dad or Granddad at his favorite sporting ground.
Only the truly bold attempt it on national TV, as did 44-year-old Christopher Noteboom during a 2005 Philadelphia Eagles-Green Bay Packers game. After considering a random toss onto the field when no one was looking, Noteboom threw caution (and a bit of his mother, a lifelong Eagles fan) to the wind and charged toward midfield, kneeled at the 30-yard line, let spill the contents of his plastic bag and blurted out, "This is for you, Mom!"
He was promptly escorted off and charged with defiant trespass.
A popular choice
While records of sports-related scattering incidents are hard to come by, cremation itself is increasingly popular in the United States. In 1985, roughly 15 percent of Americans chose to be cremated, according to the Cremation Association of North America. By 2006, the figure had jumped to 34 percent. It's projected to top 50 percent around 2020.