Sports & Recreation
2022 Readers Poll
2022 Critics Picks

Photo by Jana Birchum

Best Park Reboot

Most of us probably have memories of festivals and events taking place at the old Waterloo Park, and there will always be folks who don't like change, but it's hard to argue against the utility of the updated green space. The winding paths and gardens are more accessible and visitor-friendly even when there isn't a concert at the on-site amphitheatre. The neighboring Capitol grounds and concrete garages both inform the design, and isn't that Austin?: a little less green, but a little more designed for use.

Waterloo Park
500 E. 12th

Best New Sports Team (Bovine Division)

What? Team rodeo? The concept may sound strange in this ruggedly individualistic sport, but seasoned rodeo fans are excited that the format – five riders per team, highest total score wins – brings a new strategic twist to the competitions, and gives casual fans a rooting interest for their city’s teams. With the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, the Gamblers might pick two-time reigning World Champion Jose Vitor Leme, who was in town in April for the team’s launch party. The five-week season starts July 25, culminating with the Gamblers becoming the first pro sports team to host an event at the new Moody Center, Aug. 26-28.

Austin Gamblers

photo by Omarr Cantú / Giant Noise

Best Pickleball Paradise

Like pingpong, Pickleball uses paddles. Like badminton, the court is small. Mostly, though, America’s fastest-growing sport resembles tennis … except with more smiles and laughing. The long-existent game’s recently surging popularity may, in part, be due to its inclusivity for a wide range of physical abilities and easy entry for beginners. These days you can find foursomes bopping a perforated ball over the net at many city parks (Pan Am’s a hot spot), but the area’s top pickleball destination is Dreamland in Dripping Springs. The south-of-town entertainment complex has a whopping 16 pickleball courts used for open play, tournaments, clinics, and even professional matches.

Dreamland Dripping Springs
2770 Hwy. 290 W.
Dripping Springs

Best Irish Whip Reversal to a Frightening, Potentially Career-Ending Injury

On an April 2021 episode of All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite, Ricky Starks magically stood upright seconds after landing squarely on his head as a result of a German suplex spot gone wrong. The New Orleans native finished the match with a fractured neck. Starks, a charismatic professional wrestler primed for future stardom who heavily performed on the Texas indie scene before signing to AEW, claims doctors told him he barely avoided paralysis. His neck injury would sideline him for almost three months until he defeated Brian Cage for the unsanctioned FTW Championship in his second hometown of Austin.

photo courtesy of AEW / All Elite Wrestling

photo by Angel Schatz / courtesy of Central Texas Mycological Society

Best Way to Connect Your Inner Fungi Nerd With Nature

The Gen Z crew has openly embraced their nerdiest selves since birth, but the rest of us have been much slower on the path to self-discovery. And with mushrooms all the rage, it’s no wonder that mycologists are finally earning their time in the limelight. This newish nonprofit focuses on educating Austin about the wild world of mushrooms, from night walks with black lights to daytime cultivation meetups and online spawning classes. So go ahead, embrace your true fungi-loving self and join the mycelial masses: Pick up a block at one of their many drop sites today.

Best Victory Versus a Bitter Rival

On April 16, 2022, the top-ranked University of Oklahoma Sooners softball team reentered Red & Charline McCombs Field a day after defeating the No. 18 University of Texas Longhorns via the merciful “run rule.” The defending national champions from Norman perhaps expected another run-of-the-mill victory over their Austin rivals; after all, 2014 had marked the last UT victory over OU. But fifth-year senior Hailey Dolcini, an All-American offseason addition to the UT program via transfer portal, threw a great complete game en route to a 4-2 Longhorn win. That shocking upset ended OU’s NCAA-record unbeaten start to the season at 38-0, and a 40-win streak dating back to last season.

courtesy of Texas Athletics

Best End to a Nearly 50-Year Drought

Led by iron-willed head coach Jahmal Fenner, the 2021 LBJ Early College High School football team finished its historic season at 15-1 and competed in the UIL Football 4A State Championship game. In reaching AT&T Stadium in December, the Jaguars became the first Austin ISD school since the 1973 Reagan (now Northeast) High School team to compete for a state title in football. Fenner remarkably coached the team to a third-round playoff win just days after his 21-year-old son, Cameron Nelson, was tragically shot to death. The Jaguars will return to 5A competition next season.

Best Friendly-but-Feisty Soccer League

We love striding up to Q2 Stadium to take in some Austin FC action up close. But some days it's not enough just to spectate the Beautiful Game, and on those days we typically find ourselves out at Onion Creek Soccer Complex, lined up at right back for another Austin Coed Soccer Association game day. Apart from being 100% coed (which accentuates the friendly, inclusive vibe), ACSA uses the same rules as the pros: 11-on-11, two 45-minute halves, don't use your hands. We love that this volunteer-run rec league is all soccer, all the time.

photo by Addrian Jafaritibar

photo by Jana Birchum

Best Indoor/Outdoor Venue

It's not totally kid-friendly, and it's not just for adults, either. With a playground, full-service bar, food trucks, dog park, various lawn games, an outdoor patio, and pickleball courts you can prebook, this creative venue invites Austinites of all stripes to have a good time. With a hearty menu stocked with BBQ Frito pie, hot honey turkey biscuit, and the eyebrow-raising Sunday special, a beef-tallow brioche donut, you can carb hard and then enjoy a game of cornhole. On your way out, take a photo in front of the bright mural that pays tribute to its South Austin neighbors. In 100 degrees or 60, Bouldin Acres is an ideal event space.

Bouldin Acres
2027 S. Lamar

Best Grackle

Who was that beaked man? Walter Moreau, CEO of the beloved local social services and housing nonprofit Foundation Communities, was going to run in this costume in 2020 but, well … you know. The next year was scrubbed as well, but Moreau was back this April, traversing the Cap 10K on his 8-foot-tall scooter without pooping on a single car. We’ve recognized Foundation Communities before for their affordable housing projects (twice) and their low-income tax assistance services, but this is the first time we’ve given them the bird.

courtesy of Texas Athletics

Best Promotional Persistence

The 2021-22 Texas Longhorns men's basketball season – the program's first under head coach Chris Beard – offered promise for the future. Beard’s continued efforts to increase student investment in the program included an audacious “Darty at the Tower.” The free, student-only day party began at the UT Tower with food trucks and a performance from local rap duo Blackillac before the UT alum marched his new legion of supporters to Gregory Gym. Over 3,000 attendees packed UT volleyball’s home to provide UT basketball with its best atmosphere in years.

Critics: Shopping
2022 Intro

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