By DION MARTORANO
Journal & Topics Sports
After covering sports year-round for Journal & Topics Media Group, it was nice to take a vacation to Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand between Friday, Jan. 19 and Friday, Feb. 2.
Even on vacation, sports followed me around everywhere I went.
I was looking for a drawstring backpack to walk around with, but couldn't find one until I found a Westfield Mall in Geelong, Australia. Inside the mall were American stores like Target and Foot Locker. I went to the Foot Locker and found some bags there, including a few Michael Jordan ones. As I entered the store the host smiled as he saw my Chicago Cubs hat and asked if I had ever been to Chicago. I told him yes and that I live in the suburbs north of Chicago. He was ecstatic and went on to give me a rundown of the Chicago Bulls roster, his favorite team.
It was fun to see fans of Chicago teams all the way in Australia and New Zealand.
In Australia and New Zealand, some of the bigger sports are cricket, rugby, Australian football, soccer (called football over there), golf, tennis, auto racing and basketball.
In New Zealand, rugby is their national "religion," according to one of our tour bus drivers. Rugby is still growing in the U.S., and it is by far the most popular sport in New Zealand. There are a few local rugby teams like Palatine Rugby Club, Arlington Stallions and Northwest Narwhals to name a few.
Cricket is huge in Australia and New Zealand, with over 1.3 million playing in Australia and over 170,000 in New Zealand. IHSA doesn't sponsor cricket as a sport at the local high school level here, but there are a large number of area high schools that have cricket clubs, including Prospect and Elk Grove.
In America, you can drive about anywhere and find a baseball field. The same with a cricket field in Australia and New Zealand. They are just everywhere.
They also have a sport called netball, which is like basketball, but different. There is a hoop, but no backboard, for players to try and score in. The sport is mostly played by women, but a few men play. Games are 60 minutes long (15-minute quarters) and whoever scores the most points at the end of the game wins. While it hasn't taken off in America, there are a few teams in the U.S., including the Chicago Netball Club.
One thing New Zealand natives are also proud of is their 2017 America's Cup championship in sailing.
While sailing isn't an IHSA sport, Loyola Academy hosts a highly-decorated team that is the largest single high school sailing program in the nation.
There is also a lot of "bowling" (what we call bocce ball in U.S.) in both nations.
They play baseball in Australia, but it isn't as big over there as it is here. According to baseball-reference.com, there have been 30 players from Australia to play at least one MLB game, including three who played last year (Liam Hendriks, Peter Moylan and Warwick Saupold).
Seventeen NBA players were born in Australia, including seven playing this season. Notable Australian born NBA players are Kyrie Irving (though he played for Team USA), Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, Luc Longley and 2017 No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons. New Zealand has a few NBA players in their history, including current Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams.
It is a long trip (4-1/2 hours to Los Angeles and another 15 hours from L.A. to Sydney), but worth it.
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