Best Team to Root For
Sure, they might not be very good, and might not have been very good for a long time now, but that doesn't mean Cleveland doesn't love its Brownies. The team has a storied tradition and a history 180 degrees opposite its modern-day track record, but Ohio is the birthplace of football, and the Cleveland Browns, no matter who the quarterback or coach or GM, hold a special place in the heart of the population. If that means having fun at the tailgate and then being depressed every Sunday, so be it.
Best Cleveland Athlete
Kyrie Irving exploded into the NBA's topmost tier with a dazzling sophomore campaign that won him a trip to the All-Star game and endless boners from a moonstruck punditry. His leap in scoring was perhaps most significant, jumping up to 23.0 ppg from 18.5 his rookie season, but his gains in steals and 3-point shooting, to say nothing of his confidence, were also notable. Though his season has fizzled to a close with a nagging shoulder injury, he'll lead an exciting young core to a stronger season next year. Regrettably, Kyrie's superstar status with the Cleveland Cavaliers means one inevitable outcome: an endless chorus of local sports writers speculating about "what it will take to keep him here" and the tiresome butt-ugly fantasies of a union with LeBron James.
Maybe Tito won the category because he has the best track record elsewhere and is relatively new to town, but whatever the cause, Terry Francona brings a breath of fresh air to the Tribe after years of wandering in the lowly basement of the American League. He has verifiable credentials – World Series in Boston – but he also seems like the kind of manager that can wrangle the best out of the rebuilt Indians roster. Hopefully no fried chicken or beer will be involved.
Best Minor League Team
LAKE ERIE MONSTERS
What can we say? Dan Gilbert knows how to run a sports team. The major perk of the Lake Erie Monsters is that they play in the Q, right downtown, so you don't have to haul ass out to Akron or Canton or Lake County to catch a game. The glossy planks of the Cavaliers' court are traded for the zambonified sheen of fresh ice, upon which the grizzled Monsters skate and score and wreak havoc upon their opponents' faces. Even though they're an AHL team (part of the Colorado Avalanche franchise), going to a game is pro-level entertainment. The jerseys are fearsome and the competition is...well, competitive. Every once in a while, it's exciting to root for a team with a chance to win a championship.
Best College Team
Ohio State Buckeyes
Removed from Columbus by a two-hour drive, Cleveland is nevertheless a Buckeye hotbed, what with no other major college teams to root for in the area (on the football field) and a surplus of OSU alums settled in Northeast Ohio. The wake of the tat-gate scandal hung over the team last year, but Urban Meyer still led his squad to an undefeated season. The SEC alum seems poised to help the Buckeyes eclipse the perennial bowl game blunders, and as long as the Browns keep losing, there's only one wining football team in Ohio that Clevelanders root for.
Best High School Team
In a single winter, the Wildcats of St. Ignatius gather more praise and hardware than typical high school athletic programs manage to acquire in most decades. This year the basketball team, led by standout guard Francisco Santiago, cruised to a 21-4 record and earned the PD's #1 ranking. The hockey team was ranked #1 statewide (and everyone knows that outside Minnesota, no one plays hockey like Cuyahoga Catholics.) Even the swimming and wrestling squads achieved milestones in their obscure statistical categories. Chuck Kyle's iconic football program and Mike McLaughlin's perennial soccer powerhouse in the fall make these guys the athletic faces of the region and a thrill to watch year round.