Seven Sports Stars You Should Know

With a full set of D-I university teams, an NBA team, a AAA baseball team, and a relatively nearby minor league hockey franchise, Memphis doesn’t lack for sports stars and sports heroes. But what about the other guys and gals? What about the unsung heroes of the local sporting world – the interesting, the tough, the dedicated? This story is for them. So get to know these paragons of sporting glory, because through their performance, hobbies or even incredible personality they are all making Memphis a better sports city in their own way.

Daniel Descalsco, Memphis Redbirds

On the field, Redbirds second baseman Daniel Descalsco is a high percentage hitter who bats much more successfully than most would expect for a 5’9” infielder. Off the field, he is a carefree bay area guy who misses his grandmother’s cooking.

Descalsco has played well for the Redbirds since being called up in July of 2009, helping the team win the PCL championship last season, playing a key role on the 2009 USA Gold Medal World Cup Team, and steering the ‘birds to another PCL Championship Series appearance this season.

In the middle of all his success, Descalsco has made time to visit the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, sample the local food, kick back a little on Beale Street, and knock out a few games of FIFA 11 on Playstation 3.

Descalsco is known as something of a prankster, and for the last Sunday home game of 2010, he made sure everyone had a laugh by providing a set of custom walk-songs for the team.

“I changed everybody’s songs to kinda cheesy, teeny-bopper songs but didn’t tell anybody. That was pretty fun.”

Descalsco says he’s quite happy in Memphis, even with this summer’s heat wave, which he described as “brutal.” However he slightly laments the quality of available Italian food.

“I guess I’m spoiled by my grandmother,” he said. “She’s probably the best cook out there. I try a bit myself, but I can’t compare to her.”

Austin Lyons, MMA Fighter

Who picks a career of getting beaten up? In Austin Lyons’ case, a die-hard DC Comics nut, who saw a whole bunch of Superman in himself.

Lyons road to professional fighting started as a senior defensive tackle at Dyersburg High School, where he occasionally trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to “stay limber.” An ACL tear that year and a re-injury of the same knee in college ended Lyons football playing, but instead of forgetting about an athletic career, Lyons just switched focus.

“Once football was over and I rehabbed my knee, I still had that competitive itch,” Lyons said. “A guy from a local Tae-Kwon Do school came into a sporting goods store I was working in, and gave me a card for MMA lessons. Ultimate Fighter was getting big, and the MMA pool was growing, so I just jumped in and started swimming.”

After posting an 11-1 record as an amateur, Lyons began fighting for Empire fights, where he has a 3-1 record with three submissions. Lyons intends to make fighting last as a career, and hopes respect for the sport will grow as his career continues.

“The sport is getting more and more popular, but still needs to get more respect. Right now any joe schmo can be a professional fighter,” Lyons said. “You can’t walk into a bar with a Titans t-shirt on and say you play for the Titans. But anyone can walk into a Buffalo Wild Wings with a Tap-Out shirt on and say they’re a professional fighter. I hate to see guys who devalue the sport by putting on shirts and acting ridiculous.”

This comes from a fighter who has two signature shirts of his own already. But it is likely fans will only see him wearing them at a fight. Otherwise, if he’s not training, Lyons is probably relaxing at home with some Superman or Batman comics.

“I’m a pretty low-key guy.”

Darrell Stoddard, Mississippi Riverkings

Unless the tattoo and expression on this issue’s cover don’t make it clear, let’s spell it out. Darrell Stoddard is tough. The 28-year-old Riverkings forward has made a habit of scoring goals for the franchise, posting 14 last year, but he is most famous for racking up penalty minutes and always welcoming an on-ice fight.

Stoddard racked up 180 penalty minutes last season, his highest since his first year with the Kings when he logged 184 minutes in the box. His public presence largely revolves around his fighting as well, with several YouTube videos documenting his fisticuffs.

Stoddard takes the tough guy attitude off the ice as well, building fences in the offseason (because, seriously, what else would he be doing?) and looking for various ways to keep competing as only a man should.

“Last year I really wanted to enter a tough man competition in Tunica,” Stoddard said,  “but I couldn’t go for it because I had broken my hand fighting.”

Only Stoddard could out-tough himself.

Personally, Stoddard keeps things relatively low-key, spending time with his three-year-old son Caden, and his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter.

“I love going to my son’s tee ball games. He’s a real player. My parents say he’s just as wild and crazy as I was.”

When in Canada, Stoddard used to enjoy snowboarding and dirt biking, but now that he lives in Southaven, he has taken up fishing. No word on whether he catches catfish with his fists.

Kerry Crawford-Trisler, Memphis Roller Derby

The Memphis Roller Derby utility girl known as “Lady Problems” loves her sporting life, but is considerably better known for her much-publicized online love of Memphis, the ilovememphisblog.com. Crawford-Trisler started the website as a freelance project, and the blog is now financially supported by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“The blog is my job; it’s what I do for a living. It’s my life,” said Crawford-Trisler.

The project has proven successful, as Crawford-Trisler has amassed a major twitter following, and significant public coverage, including her appearance on the cover of last year’s 20 under 30 list in the Memphis Flyer.

“That was an awkward week,” Crawford-Trisler said of the cover. “It was just weird seeing myself places. My best friend drew a mustache and a top hat on it, and is still making fun of me.”

Although she doesn’t consider herself an athlete, Crawford-Trisler got into roller derby two years ago after seeing one event in person.

“I’m like the least athletic person ever. I suck at sports, but I went and saw a bout a couple years ago, and it just looked like so much fun. It was these crazy super hero girls hitting each other.”

Now Crawford-Trisler estimates she is good enough on her skates to work at Sonic, and spends at least five hours a week practicing with her team. Best thing about the team? The break her roller derby experience provides from her daily life.

“I think with Derby because you’re not using your real name, and when I skate I don’t wear my glasses, I have a fake name and numbers. So it’s kind of a break from work.”

Allie Prescott, Professional Poker Player

As would be expected from the son of Memphis baseball royalty, Allie Prescott IV grew up playing baseball. He went to Tulane to play baseball. He thought he would have a career in baseball, like his father, Allie Prescott III, who managed both the Chicks and Redbirds and was instrumental in bringing the Redbirds to Memphis.

A torn rotator cuff ended the baseball dream.

“I injured it my freshman year even before the season started,” Prescott said. “I was in rehab for 18 months, but the shoulder just wasn’t the same, and it was too late for surgery, so it was clear this was the kind of injury that would go away, so that was it for baseball.”

So Prescott switched focus. He got a business degree in 2003, and started a local real estate business, Prescott Properties. Oh and he also had some fun at the casinos.

“After baseball was done, my friends and I would play together, or we would be hanging out at the casinos they had there in New Orleans, and I started to realize I kind of had a knack for the game.”

The game was poker, and Prescott has such a “knack” for it that it’s now his full time job, taking him around the world and earning him, in some cases, very large prizes.

“My biggest take was about $350,000 from an tournament in Aruba in 2008. We got down to five guys and just split the money evenly. We still played it out even though there wasn’t any more money involved. I’ve had a few other six figure hits but haven’t hit the seven figure score yet. That’s the goal.”

Prescott technically resides in Vegas, though he is so often traveling to tournaments that he is not actually there very often. No matter where he is though, Prescott said Memphis is always home.

“I’m a definite Memphian. I don’t think that will ever change.”

Beth Halldorson, Memphis Flamingos Rugby

Enter the director. Beth Halldorson, an inaugural member and now President of the Memphis Flamingos Rugby team, is at her best when playing the role of the general. On the Rugby pitch, Halldorson plays a mental game as scrum half, helping direct the members of her team to victory.

Professionally Halldorson is a different type of director, one usually associated with Hollywood. Halldorson works full-time as a videographer for mega firm Baker-Donelson, but also finds time to update her YouTube channel (creatively named bethhalldorson), and just finished co-directing the independent film “Scrum.”

One of her YouTube videos, “Rugby 101,” has accumulated more than 1.4 million views, and is the top search hit on the site for “Rugby.” Halldorson said she made the video to help raise awareness of the sport.

“Usually when I tell people about the team or what I do they say something like ‘oh that’s cool’ or, more often, ‘I didn’t know we had a team,’” Halldorson said. “So for people who are interested, that video can help them understand the basics of the game.”

Halldorson’s commitment to the game and the team in Memphis has been impressive. While other Tennessee cities like Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga have struggled to stay solvent, Halldorson made sure the Memphis squad remained intact.

“It can be frustrating, because those other Tennessee teams couldn’t keep it together and just merged into one. So a lot of times it feels like Memphis versus the rest of Tennessee. But it’s ok. We have fun with it by poking fun at them at the ending our pregame song!”

Vendula Strnadova, University of Memphis Soccer

Twenty years old, shy, transplant from the desert, epic soccer player. That’s Vendula Strnadova, the midfielder on the nationally ranked University of Memphis Women’s team.

Strnadova has an interesting background, moving to the United States from the Czech Republic as a child, after her father was offered a scholarship at New Mexico State University.

Not long after arriving in New Mexico, Strnadova began playing soccer, at first on boys’ teams, where she didn’t immediately stand out as a star.

“Playing with boys was a challenge, I had to play faster and stronger and tougher,” Strnadova said.

The challenge paid off around the time Strnadova was 10, as she quickly experienced major recognition, was selected for the U.S. Olympic Developmental National Pool, and played for the Czech National U-19 team from 2006-2009.

Although Strnadova grew up playing with her two sisters, particularly her older sister, when the time came to choose a college, she chose to cut her own path and come to Memphis rather than stay in New Mexico.

“Memphis is a nice change from New Mexico, because that’s a desert, and also it reminds me of Europe because it’s so green.”

Academically Strnadova  is finishing a degree in Health and Human Performance, and has plans to become a physical therapist, massage therapist, or chef.

That is if soccer doesn’t pan out first.

By Doug Gillon, Darrell Stoddard Photo by Chase Gustafson.

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