While I live in Arkansaw, Wisconsin I grew up in Beloit, Wisconsin which is right on the Wisconsin-Illinois border and equidistant from both the state capital in Madison and Rockford, Illinois, home of TRI. On Sunday ESPN’s news program Outside the Lines did a profile of Beloit and nearby Janesville, Wisconsin and how the bad economic times were affecting local sports in each community, from the youth level to minor league baseball.
Beloit and Janesville were places heavily dependent on manufacturing and now much of it is gone, from Beloit Corporation, the once great paper machine making powerhouse of the world to Parker Pen, to Alcoa where my sister once worked, to GM, which shuttered its Janesville plant a few months ago which put 4,000 people out of work.
Right now the unemployment rate in Beloit is at 18 percent. That’s 18 percent not including all those who have given up looking for work (thanks to the Feds, who deliberately hide true unemployment rates in order to keep consumer confidence high) so imagine the true rate being near 30 percent. That’s higher than anything we saw during recession of 1982. Even in good economic times there was always an underclass and rough neighborhoods where violence took place and where gangs were a part (not a huge part) of the scene. Needless to say growing up in Beloit did put somewhat of a mark on you when meeting people from around Wisconsin.
And yet, Beloit is also the home of “Yale of the Midwest” Beloit College. It may of had some snotty Ivy League rejects as students from out east but it’s a valued asset to the community. It has a Class A minor league baseball team that I spent many summers at Telfer Park watching. It has nice park areas and as the ESPN piece shows, plenty of community involvement in things like youth sports. Without all this, Beloit could have easily become a place like East St. Louis or Cairo, Ill. or Benton Harbor or Flint, Michigan, mid-sized communities that because of deindustrialization became hollowed out ghost towns and economic ghettos filled with people too poor to have anywhere else to go. Old Beloiters owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Boys Club, the YMCA and YWCA, the summer schools and summer programs run from the elementary schools, all the youth baseball, football, basketball, soccer and hockey programs and all their volunteer coaches and parents from keeping this fate from happening. But it just seems like for every step forward Beloit takes, it takes two steps backward and now could easliy slip into a Detroit stage. And with GM closing, Janesville, which is twice Beloit’s size (65,000 people), will start to see itself deteriorating as well. It’s inevitable. You can’t replace 4,000 jobs all at once making windmill turbines.
It’s painful watching people you know on TV going through rough times. It’s painful watching the place where you grew up suffer for all those you left behind. The only consolation, I guess, is through Facebook where I can get together with fellow former Beloiters, all those I went to school with, and relive your childhood memories of happier times. As I wrote, “Ahh, what can one say? Even though we all live far away, it’s still home.”
Cue Bruce Springsteen…Your Hometown