Let me begin by simply stating that I, as a native son of Fort Wayne, feel a certain burden of responsibility to use this space on this occasion to spread esoteric facts about my former hometown. I make no promises that they will be useful, but if nothing else you'll now have some things to discuss on your trek to the Memorial Coliseum this Saturday to watch your Michigan Wolverines take on the Bemidji State Beavers.
Where to begin? Well you may be surprised to learn that Fort Wayne (aka the Summit City) is Indiana's second largest city, with a population estimated at just South of 250,000, this also earns it the title of 75th largest city in the US (take that Glendale, Arizona).
Fort Wayne (the city and actual fort) is named after General "Mad Anthony" Wayne (pictured above) who oversaw the building of said fort by the US Army at the convergence of three rivers: The St. Joesph, the St. Mary's, and the Maumee. Prior to Wayne's fort, etc, the Miami Indians settled in the area and named it Kekionga, which served as the capital of the Miami tribe. Anecdotally the city is also known as the City of Churches, and if you've spent any time there at all, you might as well tack on "and strip clubs" to the end of that moniker. I have yet to drive through a metropolis that has such a wealthy supply of both strip clubs and churches, and if you think I'm kidding about this, you're dead wrong. You could very easily walk right out of a church and into a strip club in Fort Wayne, or vice versa I suppose. Other random fact? The Fort Wayne Children's Zoo is rated as one of the Top 10 Zoos in the Country by Parents Magazine. That's right, Parent's magazine top 10 zoo one sentence after strip clubs...
So what about the sports climate in Fort Wayne? There's a large number of minor league teams that get some attention, but far and away the team/school you hear the most about is Notre Dame. Some may protest this fact, but they're wrong and likely ND apologists. Despite being situated a mere 20 or so miles from the Ohio border and only 50 miles from the Michigan border, Fort Wayne contains an unsightly plethora of Notre Dame fans that wait in hiding through spring and summer only to come roaring out of the shadows, logs, and other dark dingy places where ND fans hide until that football team manages to string two wins together. The Fort Wayne newspapers make full page stories with headlines that are not too dissimilar from: "Notre Dame lineman ties shoe, ready to take on all comers". One local columnist, Ben Smith, writes so many "Awe shucks, apple pie and Notre Dame" columns that you could create a fun mad-libs game with them all. You may already have guessed that growing up in Ft. Wayne as a Michigan fan tends to nuture a decent (read: huge) amount of distaste for the Irish. So much so that you take pictures of the paper on those occasions (which are as frequent as Halley's comet) where Michigan gets some positive pub.
Yeah that's all well and good you might say, but what about the Fort's sports cred? Well...
- Fort Wayne, believe it or not, is a hockey town. The Fort Wayne Komets, an IHL team, were founded in 1952 and have brought home 11 regular season titles and seven championships with the most recent coming in 2009, making them back to back Turner Cup champions. According to their history section, the reason it's Komets and spelled with a "K" is because the owner, Ernie Berg, wanted something that... and I quote:
...suggested speed, flash, and excitement. He spelled it with a "K" instead of a "C" after his wife. Her name was Kathryn but she always went by Kay.
- The Fort Wayne TinCaps (formerly the Wizards) are the single A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. Apparently TinCaps are supposed to invoke images of Johnny Appleseed, however the logo also conjures up several other names as well which I'm sure you can come up with on your own. Regardless, they just completed their first season in their new home: Parkview Field. The 2009 season also saw them claim the Midwest League Championship.
It's an angry apple with a smile and a stem that pierces metal via www.k105fm.com
- If that bit of baseball tid-bittery wasn't enough for you, try this: the Fort Wayne Kekiongas played in and won the first ever professional baseball game. Seriously.
- What about basketball? Well, interestingly enough, the Pistons, yes, those Pistons, originated in? Yep, Fort Wayne, Indiana as the: Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, they also had a tremendous logo:
Angry happy piston man via www.sportslogos.net
The Pistons, of the Fort Wayne variety, claimed two NBL titles ('44 and '45) before joining the NBA in 1948. They eventually moved to Detroit in 1957. So there you go.
- The Fort Wayne Fury was the local CBA team that garnered such legends as Damon Bailey and was coached by future New York Knicks luminary Isiah Thomas prior to destroying the entire CBA. Yes, his managerial incompetence has roots all the way back to Ft. Wayne. We now have the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (their slogan, and I'm not kidding, is "join the invasion"), so if you ever wondered where Dan Dickau went after Gonzaga you now have an answer to your question. Of note, U of M grad Chris Hunter played for the Mad Ants before moving on to Golden State.
At this time you might be asking "that's all well and good, but what about the venue?" Well, the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum was originally built in 1952 and was renovated (they raised the roof... literally, by 41 feet) in 2002. It seats 10,500 for hockey and 13,000 for basketball. Believe it or not the venue has hosted two NBA finals (1955, 56) and one NBA all-star game (1953). It's a perfectly serviceable facility for an event such as this, plus parking is a breeze.
Generic Coliseum shot via upload.wikimedia.org
Well, despite no longer currently residing in the area, I can say that the Coliseum Boulevard area has your usual assortment of chain restaurants, pubs, and sports bars all very near the actual venue, oh and of course strip clubs, mustn't forget those. Also, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on all the food options, so feel free to use your favorite search or app to check out your options. I can say that If you're looking for some nice Italian cuisine, the Casa Mare located directly across from the Coliseum on Parnell Rd is worthy of a visit. If you get in early and have some time to head downtown, do yourself a favor and head over to Fort Wayne's Famous Coney Island for lunch. Cool historical hole in the wall and GREAT coney dogs with real bottled Coke.
If Mexican cuisine is your thing, not too far away is Cebolla's Mexican Grill which I can also highly recommend. Or you can try J.K. O'Donnell's Irish Pub which usually has some form of rugby, soccer, or some other european type of broadcast on, they also have a fine selection of brews from which to sample. It's a recent addition to the downtown area but definitely worth checking out. Microbrews your thing? Check out Mad Anthony Brewing Company. Further South are a large number of other options available that are also worth trying if you're staying down there, keeping with the pub theme: Flanagan's Restaurant and Pub, Covington Bar and Grill, and generic sports bar Buckets are all within walking distance of each other.
So there you go, Fort Wayne, IN in at least a minor amount of its glory. For anyone else joining in on Saturday, enjoy and Go Blue!