Best Of 2019

When locals turn on WWE SmackDown Live, they may see a familiar face in the form of host/announcer Greg Hamilton. Born Greg Hutson, Hamilton — who chose his stage name after his  hometown of Hamilton, Ohio — spent years on the entertainment and hosting circuit in places like Orlando and San Antonio before landing his starring SmackDown gig. Hamilton can be seen every Tuesday night on SmackDown Live as well as in the ring for WWE’s signature events like WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and more. He now resides in Cincinnati and when not announcing “Shinsukkkkkeeeeee Nakamuuura,” he can be found casually enjoying a lobster roll at Court Street Lobster Bar. A scroll through his Instagram (@greghamiltonwwe) shows the man as one part super host, one part world traveler and one part foodie, so don’t be surprised to see shots of Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse next to ringside snaps from around the world.

Sports & Recreation


2. Mick Cronin

3. Jarron Cumberland

2. Andy Dalton

3. Tyler Eifert

After playing their 2017-2018 home games at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team returned to its own campus to play at Fifth Third Arena after an extensive renovation project. The upgrades have been so impressive, every time a new TV announcer comes in to broadcast a UC home game, they can’t help but gush. Bringing Fifth Third into the 21st century, the new-look arena — which took 20 months and $87 million (“privately funded,” the school’s website stresses) to complete — features a wider and larger lower bowl, better views and padded-back seating throughout (no more wooden benches!), more club seats and luxury suites, new concessions (including local favorites like Frisch’s, Skyline and Taste of Belgium) and hospitality areas, new LED stat boards, several giant HD video boards (including one outside of the arena) and much more. Fifth Third Arena, 2700 O’Varsity Way, University Heights, 53arena.gobearcats.com.

Shakespearean drama. Gravity-defying acrobatics. Unitards. You don’t have to break the bank to enjoy the spectacle of pro wrestling. The Northern Wrestling Federation offers WWE-sized thrills in the cozier confines of Fairfield’s UAW Hall. Over the past two decades, the indie promotion has garnered a cult following of die-hard wrestling fans and curious locals. Eight dollars scores you a seat closer to the action than any arena will provide, leaving you enough leftover cash to buy a hot dog and enough proximity to feel the rumble of the mat after a leap from the top rope. Though aerial feats and suplexes are never in short supply, NWF’s real draw is its eclectic cast of characters, which includes a D-list actor with a Napoleon complex, a guy who sports a Roman Gladiator mask at all times and a Floridian beach bum. It’s part gymnastics, part improv comedy and part reality TV — all performed live. Northern Wrestling Federation, nwfwrestling.squarespace.com.

It was a shocker when we found out last year that the holiest of all holy days in Cincinnati — Opening Day for Reds baseball — would be effectively split in two in 2018. The Findlay Market Opening Day Parade was held four days after the Reds’ home opener against the Washington Nationals, thanks to MLB scheduling changes that moved the season’s start date up a week. “The Reds Opening Day, which has historically fallen on a Monday, is now moved to the Thursday of the preceding week,” Findlay Market said in a statement at the time. “In 2018, this causes a conflict for Findlay Market because the opening week of the baseball season coincides with the Easter holidays. And, in order to operate the parade, Findlay Market needs to be closed.” Contrary to popular belief, the separation of the two events was not a harbinger of the apocalypse and the parade and Opening Day still occurred without incident. Thankfully, there is no such conflict in 2019, and thus, Reds fans will be spared the intense level of angst last year’s decision engendered. The Reds’ first game and the city’s vaunted Findlay Market Opening Day Parade will once again fall on the same day. The Reds will play their first game of the 2019 season against the Pittsburgh Pirates March 28 after the 100th-annual parade and the Reds Community Block Party. Expect the parade’s 100th anniversary and the Reds’ 150th anniversary — and the reunion of the two — to mark this procession as one to remember. Findlay Market, 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, findlaymarketparade.com.

Fifty West Brewing Company has turned a stretch of Wooster Pike into a veritable outdoor recreation corridor. Across the street from the flagship brewpub sits Fifty West Canoe & Kayak, Fifty West Cycling and Fifty West Production Works (home to six sand volleyball courts). All are geared toward building community through shared experiences, which include drinking craft beer and going outside: it’s all about an active lifestyle, according to brewery co-owner Bobby Slattery. “Our mission, from a company standpoint is, basically, if you’re on the barstool, we want to get you off the barstool and figure out a way to add value to your life,” he says. “And if you’re not on the barstool and you’re out there being active, we want to educate you on craft beer and get you to sit on the barstool every once and a while.” Fifty West’s proximity to the Little Miami River and Loveland Bike Trail — arguably the city’s most popular thoroughfares for canoeing, kayaking, running and biking — also added a spark. Most activities are seasonal: running groups, co-ed volleyball leagues and group bike rides take place March through November, and then canoe and kayak rentals start around April or May and run through the fall. Fifty West’s bike shop is open year-round, however, for sales and fittings. They’ve also added a family-friendly Roadside Grill to their seasonal offerings. While the brewpub offers chef-driven, sit-down dining, the Roadside Grill is a place to grab snacks, sandwiches and salads to eat before a bike ride or jog along the trail. Also check the website for official training groups to help you meet your full or half-marathon goals. Fifty West Brewing Company, 7668 Wooster Pike, Columbia Township, fiftywestbrew.com.

Winton Woods standout turned soon-to-be NFL linebacker David Long Jr. put on a show at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, placing inside the Top 5 in the 40-yard dash (4.45) and vertical jump (39.5). And his former rival, Mount Healthy’s David Montgomery, did much of the same at the much-anticipated Indianapolis event. Long — a former Iowa State running back — made Cincy proud, running an impressive 4.63-second 40-yard dash and putting up 15 reps of 225 on the bench. Montgomery and Long represented the Queen City well and should reap the benefits from draft day in April.

This was a close race. The Cincinnati Rollergirls’ roster is chock full of talented skaters with impressive names, including Hot Slice, MIRDERHER, Sailor Scary and FireBolt. But it’s Pistolwhippin’ Wendy, who made her CRG debut in 2009 and plays pivot, jammer and blocker for the team, that takes the cake. Catch Wendy and the gang in 2019 at their newish home at Xavier University’s Schmidt Memorial Fieldhouse. First rolled out in 2006, the CRG are the Queen City’s first all-female, amateur, flat-track roller derby team, and for those interested in trading in their mainstream fandom for something more unique, these girls have you covered. All members of the team — including the coaches, referees and skaters -— are volunteers, and the team is primarily owned by the skaters themselves as the girls double as roller derby athletes and #girlbosses. Check the schedule for home games, which all include themes like Superhero Night, Star Wars Night and Pride Night. Cincinnati Rollergirls, cincinnatirollergirls.com.

2. Joe Stephenson (Notre Dame Academy Softball)

3. Noel Rash (Beechwood High School Football)

2. Billy Hatcher (Cincinnati Reds)

3. Luke Fickell (University of Cincinnati Football)

2. Eric Knodel

3. Michael Houser

Thanks to its seemingly endless stream of coaches who have gone on to bigger things, Miami University earned the nickname “The Cradle of Coaches.” But in the past few decades, it seems almost a given that when an NCAA basketball program needs a new coach, they’re not headed to Oxford — they’re going to come sniffing around Xavier University’s campus. From the ’80s through 2001, Pete Gillen and Skip Prosser had good and fairly lengthy runs at X, but Gillen would eventually jump to Providence, then Virginia, while Prosser was poached by Wake Forest. Then Thad Matta did so well at Xavier, he was lured to Ohio State after three years. His successor, Sean Miller (who, like Matta, came out of that Cradle of Coaches), likewise earned a lot of interest from other teams, ultimately leaving for Arizona after five years. Xavier fans fell quickly in love with Chris Mack, the Cincinnati native and X grad who took over in 2009 and led the team to five Sweet 16 appearances. But after helping X get the first No. 1 tournament seed in school history, Louisville found itself without a head coach after firing school legend Rick Pitino; they opened up their checkbook and hired Mack last March. Fans are hoping new coach Travis Steele will be great… just maybe not too great too soon, so he sticks around and maybe has a career like Mack’s. Xavier University, goxavier.com

2. Corben Bone

3. Emmanuel Ledesma

2. Aston Oaks Golf Club

3. Avon Fields Golf Course

Good news for people who love throwing axes: There are now multiple places in Cincinnati where you can toss sharpened projectiles at a wooden target. And most even sell booze. The axe-throwing craze hacked its way into the Tri-State last March with the opening of Cincinnati Axe Throwing in West Chester. The first in the region, it introduced the concept of letting random people walk into a room and chuck 1.5-pound hatchets at wooden bullseyes. After that came Flying Axes in Covington, the local extension of a Louisville-based chain, and then Urban Axes in OTR, which opened in January of this year and has locations in Baltimore, Boston, Philly, Austin and Durham, North Carolina. The axe-throwing “game” is based on a Canadian pioneering tradition and while local axe outlets have varying age requirements ranging from 13 to 15 to 21-and-up, all have “axeperts” on hand to teach newbies safety and skill basics before they let you loose with a deadly weapon. Prices, times, tournament styles and group rates also vary at each different company. But, for those looking to double down on danger and increase your competitive edge, both Flying Axes and Urban Axes sell alcohol. And if you get really into it, all three spots have axe-throwing leagues. Cincinnati Axe Throwing, 4814 Peter Place B, West Chester, cincinnatiaxe.com; Flying Axes, 100 W. Sixth St., Covington, flyingaxes.com/covington; Urban Axes, 2010 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, urbanaxes.com/cincinnati.

2. YMCA

3. Mayerson JCC

2. Loveland Bike Trail

3. Sharon Woods

4. Mount Airy Forest

5. Miami Whitewater Forest

6. Devou Park Backcountry Trails

7. French Park

8. Trillium Trails Wildflower Preserve/Glenwood Gardens

9. Ault Park

10. Boone Cliffs Nature Preserve

Hockey games can be overwhelming for just about anyone — strobe lights, smoke machines, fog horns, toppling towers of dollar beer cans. In October, the Cincinnati Cyclones turned things down a notch for an inclusive sensory-friendly game for those with autism, PTSD and other sensitivities and their friends to enjoy a night out on the ice. Presented in collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the decreased stimulation tactics included no goal horns, strobe lights or pyrotechnics; decreased microphone and music volume; and the lights remained on. They also asked fans to leave their cowbells and noisemakers at home. In addition to providing sensory kits stuffed with things like antiglare sunglasses, an ID wristband, noise-reducing ear covers, a fidget toy, sanitizing wipes and a venue map, they offered a downloadable social narrative to walk people through what they would see, hear and experience before watching the game. The kits are now a constant and available on a first come, first served basis for fans with visual and auditory sensitivities. “U.S. Bank Arena and the Cincinnati Cyclones are the first venue and sports team in Cincinnati to take the initiative to ensure that athletic events such as hockey games are accessible to everyone including individuals with developmental disabilities and their families,” said Jen Smith, director of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in a press release. “Our kids and families want and deserve the same opportunities to enjoy sports and other community events.” Now they can. Cincinnati Cyclones, U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway St., Downtown, cycloneshockey.com.

2. Eden Park

3. Sharon Woods