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UPMC SportsWorks  


By M. A. Jackson



Carnegie Science Center's big, new, hands-on exhibit unites the  experience of sports for every age level with the laws of science that control sports, and with the medical implications of sports injuries. From exciting virtual reality games to physical challenges, Pittsburgh's UPMC SportsWorks is a first-day tourist activity, and its proximity to the city's new stadiums underscores that Pittsburgh, as a great sports-loving town, is worth a visit.

Whatever you want, Pittsburgh's got it. Great views? Climb Mt. Washington. Eclectic shops? Take the Visa card to Shadyside and the South Side.  Need a doctor or a degree? Head over to Oakland. Hungry? Chow down in the Strip District.

Sports, you say? Well, Pittsburgh's the place to be. We have the new PNC Park baseball stadium; a new football stadium; a bridge named after the late, great ball player Roberto Clemente; a street dubbed Mazeroski Way in honor of the Pirate's second baseman; and Mario Lemieux Place in honor of one the greatest hockey players ever.  Come August 4, UPMC SportsWorks at Carnegie Science Center debuts. Before long sports fans will be calling Pittsburgh "Sports-burgh."

If you're not familiar with UPMC SportsWorks, then it's time you step up to bat. This $5 million-dollar, 40,000-square-foot exhibit is the largest, most complete presentation of  the science of sports anywhere in the world.  When you couple 66 exciting interactive exhibit experiences with a full-service sports-themed concession stand and retail shop, and add hundreds of sights and sounds as well as  sports memorabilia, you have an exhilarating and   complete experience.

Located on the North Side of Pittsburgh across the street from the Carnegie Science Center (you can't miss it--it's the big blue building next to the Steelers' new home), UPMC SportsWorks supplies a perfect outing for the sports nut or the science enthusiast. "It covers the science of sports as well as each sport itself," says Dennis Bateman, Carnegie Science Center assistant director of exhibits and facilities. "You can look at it as bobsledding and golf or as aerodynamics and reaction times."

According to Carnegie Science Center Director Seddon Bennington, the debut of UPMC SportsWorks so close to the openings of the new stadiums is a happy coincidence. "Before the new stadiums were confirmed to go ahead, we were looking at an expansion of the Science Center that would include a major exhibit on science and sport, in part because this is a big sports town and in the past this combination of sport and science has been very popular here," Bennington says.

The idea germinated in June 1998, after ideas for new exhibits had been collected from Science Center staff, volunteers, and a survey of visitors. "The research showed sports-related exhibits ranked on, or near, the top of the list," says Tom Flaherty, the Science Center's director of exhibits and facilities. Flaherty adds that when the Center hosted sports-related exhibits in 1991 and 1998, they were "hugely popular and provided a great opportunity for informal science education."

Almost half of UPMC SportsWork's cost is being paid for by a UPMC Health System sponsorship. In fact, the staff at UPMC jumped at the chance to participate. "We felt funding the exhibit was a great way of giving back to the community," says Anne Metzger, director of public relations at UPMC Health System. "We are very excited about the exhibit," she says. "It takes sports to a different level."

Covering seven themes--Safe Adventure, Try It Yourself, Sports & Science, Virtual Sports, Fore! Physics, Sportsworks Jr., and Sports Medicine--UPMC SportWorks features more than 50 individual components representing everything from baseball and ballooning to monster trucks, mountain  bikes and golf.  Flaherty says even sports rookies will have a great time at the exhibit. "Basically this is like a large indoor amusement park with strong educational opportunities," he says. "Some of the components aren't really about competitive sports, but are more leisure-time activities."

But it doesn't matter if you've seen these displays one or one thousand times, because you'll have fun each time you go to UPMC SportsWorks. You didn't stop watching football because the Steelers won a Superbowl, did you?

"Sports is a theme that lends itself well to creating components that have an open-ended quality," says Mark Trumbull, Carnegie Science Center director of marketing. For example, Olympic Sprint challenges you to run a 10-meter track along side a life-size video screen image of two-time Olympic heptathlon gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Your time and Jackie's are shown at the race end. Not satisfied? Go home, practice, and return for another run. Or take a group of friends and see who "wins." Of course it's a good bet that Jackie will beat all of you.

The pitching cage not only allows you to indulge your Nolan Ryan wanna-be fantasies, it challenges you to throw the ball the regulation 60 feet, 6 inches, faster and more accurately each time you step up to the mound. "You won't believe how far pitchers actually throw the ball, and that they can throw it that far at speeds over 100 miles an hour," says Trumbull, who estimates most regular folks get the ball traveling only a pathetic 35 mph. 

Baseball not your thing? Maybe you'd prefer to test your football passes on accuracy and distance, your ability to shoot a slap shot against a  computerized  NHL superstar goalie, or hack away on the four-hole mini-golf course. UPMC SportsWorks has it all.

And then there are sports many dream of trying but don't have the, well, chutzpah to actually attempt. Snowboarding and hangliding too extreme for you? Then try them in our extremely safe virtual-format. You can also climb a 25-foot "mountain" wall wearing a regulation harness and rope (those suffering from vertigo can stick to the horizontal rock wall), drive a Monster Truck simulator (roll the truck over for the complete effect), teeter on the balance beam like Mary Lou Retton, or careen down the down an Olympic bobsled track courtesy of motion-simulation and a large video screen.

Other UPMC SportsWorks components include a special trampoline (where you can safely jump 20 feet and then do flips), a wheelchair race, a 20-foot mini NASCAR racing track, a parachute drop (sorry, you won't be the object plummeting to the ground), a 20-by-70-foot navigation maze, and virtual volleyball and soccer. Trick Shot teaches you physics and math while you learn Minnesota Fats-style pool table maneuvers; Skateboarding tells you about your balance; and the Orbitron, a gyroscope-like contraption whirls you upside-down, sideways, and backwards. If you make it through that without tossing your peanuts and Crackerjack, then try Rotation, which will spin you in a Katerina Witt-like axel.

For families, there's UPMC SportsWorks Jr., an area specially designed for children ages three to seven,  with an obstacle course, minor league pitching cages, energy bike, and a smaller-scale rock climb. Each exhibit features information on the science principles behind the sport--geometry, energy conversion, physics of motion, aerodynamics, trajectory, inertia, magnetism, light, and more. So when the kids come to you scratching their heads over a difficult science or math problem, you can say, "Remember at UPMC SportsWorks, when...." Better yet, get your school to combine its science and gym classes for a really cool field trip. A gym class field trip? Hey, why not?

In addition to the science and sports, there's a sports medicine area compliments of UPMC Health System with information on injuries, bone stress, and drugs in sports. The UPMC Sports Medicine staff also compiled the sports-related health tips--covering injury prevention, proper training and workout techniques, the importance of warm-up, and sports safety—that accompany almost all the exhibits.

For those who excel in the perilous sport of spectating, grab a treat at the full service snack bar, and watch the activities from the huge observation deck. Or take a seat at Be the Judge and rate an actual Olympic sports event. And don't be so stingy with those 10s.  Could you do any better?

Interrupt the games only to check out the sports memorabilia display on loan from the Allegheny Club, including the 1979 Pirates World Series Trophy and part of the Forbes Field Wall. Are the trash cans and blue seats nestled throughout UPMC SportsWorks giving you déjà vu? Relax--they came from  Three Rivers Stadium.

Speaking of stadiums, if you want to avoid the mad crush of traffic on your way to or from a Pirate or Steeler game, just drop by UPMC SportsWorks. While building such an exhibit in a town as sports-minded as Pittsburgh is a no-brainer, UPMC SportsWorks will surely prove to be a touchdown for sports enthusiasts everywhere--at least that's what the staff of Carnegie Science Center hopes.  


"I would like the scale and unique scope of this exhibit to attract visitors from Cleveland and Buffalo to Pittsburgh as well as everywhere in between," says Seddon Bennington. "I want this to be perceived as a family weekend destination." Bennington adds that he thinks UPMC SportsWorks will also draw people who have shied away from the Science Center because they haven't identified with the science-themed programs. "I'd like the sport aspect and the way we market this experience to break down some barriers--particularly for young adults--so we can introduce these new audiences to some science and technology in a very unthreatening, engaging way."

And what's less threatening than a mini golf course and pitching cages? Batter up! 



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