When photographer Bill Ballenberg was assigned to shoot the
picture act (page 46) that accompanies the series of articles in
this issue on Appleton, Wis., his instructions were short and sweet.
''We're doing an essay on sports in a town in Middle America,'' he
was told. ''See you later.''
Ballenberg, 35, was thrilled. ''That's such a wonderful thing for
a photographer -- an assignment that's so totally open-ended,'' he
says. ''The only problem I had was wasting a lot of time
photographing silos. That's not hard to do when you're an Easterner
(he lives in Virginia Beach, Va.) like me.''
The idea of focusing on the sporting life of a small city in
Middle America was managing editor Mark Mulvoy's. ''It dawned on me
that people in such places do a lot of different things in the
summertime that we never get a chance to write about,'' says Mulvoy.
''It would be sport in its purest form.''
Senior editor Julia Lamb was assigned to find a suitable city.
Mulvoy mandated a number of requirements -- a minor league team, a
classic hometown hero, a sports-minded citizenry. Appleton was
perfect. It had the Foxes (page 38), Rocky Bleier (page 62) and
thousands of active amateur athletes, young and old. It also had SI
staff writer Jill Lieber as a native daughter. Well, Lieber actually
hails from Neenah, a town near Appleton. ''Don't call Neenah a suburb
of Appleton,'' warns Lieber, whose recollection of growing up in what
is known as the Fox Cities can be found on page 56.
Ballenberg, like everyone else involved in the project, remarks on
the friendliness and openness of Appletonians. But Middle America
also has a healthy measure of skepticism, as he discovered one day
when he was shooting at a lake in Appleton.
''This one little boy just wouldn't believe we were from SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED,'' says Ballenberg. ''Finally he said, 'Show me your
membership card.' '' Ballenberg didn't have one, but we trust his
photos will suffice.
Making his debut in our pages at the age of 79 -- and shooting a
different slice of Americana, the opening of the meeting at Saratoga
(page 2) -- is Carl Mydans. One of LIFE's earliest staff
photographers and for five decades a celebrated photojournalist,
Mydans says: ''One of my first assignments for LIFE involved horses.
Now my very first assignment for SI does, too.''