Sports and the power of community

From time to time, handwringing over the emphasis and resources poured into athletics is brought to the forefront.

The past few days around the campus of Mercer University and around Macon, Ga., have cemented a large reason why.

Both Mercer and the city of Macon have received exposure and publicity that no amount of money could have brought.

Consider this. During the hour after the Bears’ March Madness-rocking upset of Duke, Mercer’s Web site received 72,000 visits…93 percent of which were first-time visitors.

Needless to say, a lot of March Madness conversations on Friday were something to the effect of “Mercer? Where in the heck is Mercer?”

Mercer’s win against Duke also brought national attention toward Mercer – even on the front page of the New York Times, and the front page of the Macon Telegraph was featured on the front of ESPN.com.

But there was more to the past three days than just on the hardwood.

Young and old, poor and rich, liberal and conservative all united under one common cause – that the hometown team was carrying the flag of Macon – representing them, and making everyone, no matter if they live in Macon now or did so in the past, immensely proud of have a tie in any way to Mercer and Macon, Ga.

Fans of the University of Georgia, known to detest any shade of orange, were grasping for any shade of the color to root on Mercer.

For a few days, folks walked around town with their chests proudly stuck out, proclaiming that it was a point of pride to be from Macon, Ga.

Unfair or not, Macon has suffered from a bad perception, a view that a new generation of Maconites are fighting like mad to dig the city out of (and doing a very good job of it, by the way).

But for a few days, everyone was proud to be from the town that has also given the world the Allman Brothers and Otis Redding, among others.

And all of that local and regional pride is rooted in one thing – the power that comes from athletics impacting a community.

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