Showing youth big stages, like Women's Final Four, Olympics, part of the point | Opinion

Apr. 2—The run of having the NBA Finals, seemingly on an annual basis in the 2010s between the Cavaliers and Warriors, spoiled us.

For all the years and instances in which Cleveland and Northeast Ohio has been a punchline, it was refreshing the world — in this case, the NBA world — assembled in Cleveland for its most prominent big-stage event.

As that transpired — not to mention when the Cavs came back from 3-1 down to win the 2016 NBA title, of course — part of the legacy of that was a generation who saw the world come to their backyard and imagine what would be possible in turn.

So it is, again, for Northeast Ohio, as the women's college basketball world converges this weekend for the Women's Final Four, the second time Cleveland has hosted the tournament.

We've discussed in the past, and will continue to do so, how this couldn't come at a better time as a showcase for Cleveland, with women's college basketball enjoying parity and popularity unlike any it's ever seen. That's not a knock against women's college basketball, mind you. Quite the contrary. It speaks to the quality and reach of the game and where it could go from here.

Suffice it to say, who hoists the hardware April 7 at center court at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has importance. As does what the two semifinals and national championship game bring in quality on the court and a boost off it for the local economy.

But the long-term benefit in the stands and watching on television or streaming is a big deal as well.

Big-stage events, no matter the sport, are about the spectacle, who takes home championships and who etches their names and teams in immortality.

However, there's also the component of the inspiration it provides for the next generation.

With the Women's Final Four, there's going to be girls and young women sitting in those stands watching and being inspired by how much attention this current edition of student-athletes, as well as the game by and large, are garnering.

That matters.

Because they'll take that inspiration home and drive to become better in their local version of the game. Others may even be driven to take up the sport for the first time or take it further than they anticipated.

That makes youth sports better. And if youth sports are better, then high school sports are a natural benefactor over time from that.

Although there is an argument to be made about the financial conundrum it has become — and localities are beginning to fight back on this more — we see it every four years with the Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

This summer, as with Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, London and all the Games before it, never will the world's sports competitions be more accessible via television and streaming.

Many sports are called "Olympic sports" in part — and with all due respect to the people and the work entailed — because those sports are only in the mainstream's purview when there is an Olympic year.

Those sports don't suddenly stop in the three years during which there's not an Olympics. But they're also not at the forefront of the mainstream sports fan's mind.

That's why those sports have to strike while the proverbial iron is hot. Sports such as archery, fencing, field hockey, judo, rowing or sailing won't break ratings records during the Olympics or at any other time. But those sports generate a lasting legacy.

Because all it takes is for young eyes to be placed upon it, in person or as a viewer, and be so impressed by it they turn to their parents and say, "I want to try that."

It's been 12 years since the Olympics were in London. I'll never forget being in London in 2005 when the final announcement was made it would host in 2012. One of their mottos was "Inspire A Generation."

The legacy after the Games left, in part, was an uptick in youth participation across several sports, as well as an improvement in international fortune.

Today, the hub of those 2012 Olympics is known as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The natatorium that hosted swimming and diving is now the London Aquatic Center and is a community hub. The velopark for cycling and the field hockey and tennis facilities occupy the same purpose.

It's striking to think, 12 years later, the young eyes are now at minimum high school and college age — and some of them are now playing their role in pushing a sport forward because of 2012.

And that's the point here as well.

In a way, it almost doesn't matter who is involved in the Women's Final Four this weekend.

The spotlight will be transfixed on Northeast Ohio just the same.

And in the process, girls and young women will see their college heroes competing for a national championship. But it won't just be on TV or through highlights on YouTube or elsewhere.

It will be in an arena right in their own backyard.

They'll take that excitement back to their community.

Every advancement can't have a metric placed upon it. When the Women's Final Four leaves town and heads elsewhere, though, the tangible impact that endures means as much as the spotlight and the dollars brought into the region.

So as the Women's Final Four games tip off this weekend, be aware of the powerhouse programs and stars on the court.

But glance out at the eyes watching it, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and beyond. Observe their amazement and wonder.

In the process, you'll realize having a big-stage event in Cleveland is a big deal.

Yet it's not a big deal because of the event in and of itself.

The Women's Final Four will inspire the next generation — and that's great.

The Olympics will inspire the next generation — and that's great.

We were spoiled by all those NBA Finals.

Now another big-stage event will serve the same purpose.

Long may that benefit continue.