Top Feel-Good Stories of the Year So Far

Zac Wassink@https://twitter.com/ZacWassinkFeatured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2016

Top Feel-Good Stories of the Year So Far

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    It sometimes feels as if negative stories dominate sports headlines. 

    Arrests of superstar athletes generate discussions on television shows, sports talk radio programs and on social media. Fans understandably feel annoyed and, in some cases, angry upon learning a talented player is holding out so he can make even more of a fortune than he earned in previous seasons. Rumors of franchises relocating to different cities sicken passionate supporters of those clubs. 

    Never fear, as the sports world often provides us with multiple reasons to retain faith in humanity for the foreseeable future. 

    Abbey D'Agostino and Nikki Hamblin embodied the supposed "Olympic ideal" in Rio de Janeiro. New York Rangers winger Mats Zuccarello helped put a smile on the face of a teenager who requested help in earning a special date. A city that knew only losing for over 50 years celebrated multiple championships and a memorable parade this past spring. 

    Competitive sports leagues and tournaments should serve as forms of entertainment. We enjoy brief escapes from real life and real problems while watching games. We should never focus on only the negative aspects in sports, particularly when there are so many "feel good" stories out there. 

Jack Sock Gives Point to Lleyton Hewitt

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    Sportsmanship isn't dead. 

    American tennis player Jack Sock faced Lleyton Hewitt in a Hopman Cup match this past January. Via Zack Pierce of Fox Sports, Sock held a 5-4 lead with Hewitt serving 30-0 when Hewitt blasted a serve that was called out. Hewitt did not seem bothered by the judge's decision, and the Australian prepared for his next serve when Sock told Hewitt to challenge the call. 

    "That was in if you want to challenge it," Sock said with a serious face. 

    Hewitt, seemingly bewildered, laughed as Sock encouraged him to challenge the call. While Sock technically conceded the point, Hewitt nevertheless called for a challenge. The challenge showed Sock was telling the truth, as the ball clipped the line. Hewitt was awarded the point to the delight of the fans who applauded the players and also the moment of fair play. 

    Hewitt defeated Sock in two sets, but both men won in different ways on that night. 

Den Haag Fans Throw Teddy Bears to Sick Kids

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    Fans throwing things while in the stands is often frowned upon at soccer matches. Supporters bring, and sometimes sneak, all kinds of items into sections at games. Flares, smoke bombs and flags are three examples of contraband commonly seen at matches around the world. 

    Traveling Den Haag fans brought gifts with them for an away match against fellow Dutch club Feyenoord on September 11. 

    As Roger Gonzalez of CBS Sports wrote, Den Haag supporters took teddy bears and other stuffed animals to the match after learning they would be sharing a section of the stadium with sick children from a local cancer hospital. Near the 12th minute of play, the supporters held the furry toys over their heads and chanted before launching the items toward the kids. 

    Some of the children smiled as they looked up at the cheering supporters who offered a standing ovation for the youngsters. Feyenoord supporters in attendance turned and clapped for the Den Haag fans in a sign of appreciation. 

    Feyenoord defeated Den Haag 3-1, but those children, and also humanity, all won on the second Sunday of September. 

Justin Forsett Donates

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Many pro athletes are gracious with their money and time. Baltimore Ravens running Justin Forsett made headlines with his generosity on multiple occasions in 2016. 

    According to Ryan Mink of the official Baltimore Ravens website, Forsett, along with help from other NFL players, donated $100,000 worth of water and also sanitary body wipes to people in need in Flint, Michigan. Forsett and former teammate wide receiver Torrey Smith both visited Flint, and Forsett spoke about hearing first-person accounts of how the water crisis in the area is affecting residents. 

    This past August, ESPN's Jamison Hensley explained Forsett would contribute $7,500 and also $2,500 worth of body wipes to flood relief efforts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was reported Forsett would also volunteer with United Way ahead of a preseason game involving the Ravens and New Orleans Saints. 

    Forsett was cut days after that preseason contest. The Ravens eventually re-signed him before the the start of the regular season.

    Forsett, per Spotrac, has earned an estimated $10.5 million total in NFL earnings over his career. Some players will make more than that this season alone. Forsett, meanwhile, seems to be working on a legacy that goes beyond the field. 

Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Odds are the names Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino meant little to you at the start of August. 

    The two were scheduled to compete in the 5,000-meter race at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The 5,000-meter race, no disrespect meant to the sport or the athletes, usually does not generate a ton of buzz compared to other noteworthy track events. Casual fans may watch the opening minute of the final before leaving the room, doing something else and then watching the last minute or so of the race. 

    Per Olivia Blair of the Independent, Hamblin and D'Agostino were roughly 2,000 meters from the finish line during a qualifier when Hamblin tripped and fell. She accidentally brought D’Agostino down to the ground with her during her fall. D’Agostino rose and then helped the runner from New Zealand back to her feet before attempting to continue, but the American soon fell to the track due to injury. 

    Rather than immediately finish the race, Hamblin helped D'Agostino stand. The two then completed the journey to the finish line together, where they embraced. 

    Both women were later awarded opportunities to run in the final. D'Agostino, unable to compete because of injury, cheered Hamblin on from the stands. Hamblin failed to win a medal, but the women were awarded Fair Play awards for their selfless acts during the qualifier. 

Manchester United Fans Support Fan from Sierra Leone

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    All Moses Kamara wanted to do this past spring was watch his favorite club, Manchester United, at Old Trafford. Unlike those who live near the famous venue, Kamara cannot walk to and from the venue for matches. Kamara had to complete a journey from his home country of Sierra Leone to England to watch United play a home match. 

    Kamara made the trek for United's game against Bournemouth in early May. He never could have guessed, as Motez Bishara and Aleks Klosok of CNN wrote, the match would be abandoned after a suspicious package was found on the grounds. It was later reported the package was part of an evacuation practice drill, meaning there was no real danger at Old Trafford the day of the match. 

    A picture of Kamara, who works in airport security, looking distraught outside of Old Trafford on the original match day went viral. Members of the Manchester United Supporters Trust then stepped in. According to Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail, the supporters trust reworked Kamara's travel plans, offered him a week-long stay and also a ticket to the FA Cup final. 

    United ultimately defeated Crystal Palace in the final, and Kamara was there to see it. 

Cleveland Indians Fan Sends Quilts to the Team

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    How do you support your favorite Major League Baseball team? Do you attend games? Post on social media websites about the team? Follow games via radio and television whenever possible? Those are all solid ways to keep track of a club. 

    Would you be willing to crochet for your team? 

    That, per Gemma Kaneko and Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, is exactly what 67-year-old Jacque Mazey did for members of her beloved Cleveland Indians. Mazey sent a care package filled with quilts for every member of the Indians in early September. She included over 40 quilts, in total, and also hand-written notes personalized per team member. 

    Mazey may be thinking past September. The Indians are currently in first place in the American League Central. Unless things go horribly wrong for the club during the second half of the month, Cleveland is seemingly headed toward October baseball. 

    The temperature drops in Cleveland come October. Those quilts could come in handy. 

    The MLB.com piece claimed the Indians plan to bring Mazey to a game before the end of the regular season. That's a nice gesture, but she probably deserves more. 

    Give her a ticket for every quilt she made. 

Mats Zuccarello Lands a Fan a Prom Date

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Fans bring unique signs to sporting events all the time. Some are meant to encourage supporters to chant things such as "de-fense!" during a game. Others are blatant attempts to attract attention from television cameras, announcers and social media. 

    One New York Rangers fan created a sign this past February in the hopes of earning a prom date. 

    As Justin Tasch and Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News wrote for a piece published on March 1, 18-year-old New York fan Vinny Mutone took a special sign to a game played at Madison Square Garden for the Rangers' final game of February. The sign read:  “Zucc! if you give me your stick she’ll go to prom with me!!!," referencing Rangers winger Mats Zuccarello.

    Zuccarello noticed the sign during warm-ups. According to the Daily News piece, Zuccarello grabbed an extra stick from the bench and handed it to a security guard. The player then directed the guard to hand the stick to the clever fan who had love in his heart heading into spring. 

    Zuccarello signed the stick and the sign after the game. 

    This past April, ESPN's Andrea Masenda wrote about other entertaining "prom-posals." We hope this trend continues well into the future. 

High School Football Players Honor Cheerleader Battling Cancer

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    High school can be difficult for any teenager, male or female, for a variety of reasons. Bullying, peer pressure and an assortment of other issues impact youths during those pivotal years. Think back to your days in high school before immediately disregarding such takes. 

    Then, imagine you had cancer during your high school years. 

    That, per ESPN.com, is the case for Ashley Adamietz. Adamietz, a senior cheerleader at her school in California, was diagnosed with leukemia in August. The brave student nevertheless continued cheering for her school's football team despite going through "daily chemotherapy treatment." 

    Adamietz was on the field before a game on the night of September 2 as the football team marched onto the field. Players then placed orange flowers at Adamietz's feet as they walked by the cheerleader. Orange, as explained by ESPN, is the color for leukemia awareness. 

    Those young men were heroes on the football field that night for reasons that have nothing to do with their play. 

Leicester City Win the Premier League

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    Smaller clubs like Leicester City usually don't win Premier League titles these days. 

    More often than not, larger clubs able to buy recognizable stars and the best available players during transfer windows finish campaigns at or near the top of the league table. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all come to mind.

    Leicester put a stop to that, if only for one season. 

    As ESPN's Paul Carr explained, Leicester were 5000-to-1 odds to win the Premier League before the start of the season. While other clubs failed to gain an retain momentum up through the holiday season, Leicester rose to the top of the table and maintained their grip on first place up through May. Players such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez went from being unknown athletes among casual fans to household names who, like their teammates, hoisted the Premier League trophy. 

    The 2015-16 edition of the Foxes are an inspiration beyond sports. Yes, small clubs around the world can now dream of following in Leicester's steps and achieving what some may deem to be impossible. Are you following a personal or professional goal that seems unattainable? Just remember Leicester faced 5000-to-1 odds less than a year before they became kings of English football. 

    Follow your dreams, everyone. 

Cleveland: City of Champions

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The city of Cleveland began 2016 as a punchline in the world of sports. Cleveland fans and residents cringed upon hearing jokes that included phrases such as "mistake by the lake" and "factory of sadness." They couldn't retort, however, because Cleveland hadn't won a pro sports title since 1964. 

    That's no longer the case following a magical and, some may say, miraculous year for the city. 

    The city's incredible run began this past May when Stipe Miocic, born and raised in northeast Ohio and a passionate fan of Cleveland sports, defeated Fabricio Werdum to win the heavyweight championship in the UFC. Miocic not only successfully defended that title on September 10. He also knocked Alistair Overeem out in front of a packed Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. 

    A pair of smaller Cleveland clubs hoisted trophies after Miocic's win over Werdum. The Cleveland Monsters, formerly the Lake Erie Monsters, of the American Hockey League won the Calder Cup. National Premier Soccer League side AFC Cleveland won the NPSL National Championship in August. 

    The Cleveland Indians climbed to the top of the American League Central. The Indians began September 13 with a six-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the division standings. 

    Biggest of all, of course, was the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA Finals. As Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, the Cavaliers became the first team in history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit and win the NBA Finals. LeBron James, the local hero who broke Cleveland hearts when he left the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat before returning home in July 2014, completed his mission of bringing a title to Cleveland. 

    Cleveland fans celebrated like never before. Per ESPN's Mike Mazzeo, 1.3 million people filled downtown Cleveland for the Cavs' championship parade. 

    It's a moment and a day those who attended the parade won't soon forget. Cleveland, Ohio is, right now today, a city of champions. 

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