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The Greatest, Forgotten Season in Sports History

This year marks the 75th anniversary of possibly the greatest season in sports history. The season belonged to Detroit. And most people forgot all about it. Well, except for 32-year-old Charles Avison, a Detroiter dedicating his career to bringing back the legacy.

First, the untouchable season: In 1935, the Detroit Tigers, Lions and Red Wings won their first championships. Joe Louis went from unknown amateur to international champion; thousands of people nationwide literally danced in the streets after his fights. Detroit was home to champions of diving, golf, sprinting, softball, skeet shooting, billiards, badminton and even checkers. Detroit even had the “Babe Ruth of Speed Boat Racing,” Gar Wood, whose races would bring crowds of up to 600,000 to the Detroit River. Michigan's governor and the Detroit City Council proclaimed April 18 as “Champions Day” for Detroit. The media called Detroit “City of Champions.” No other city has achieved such feats.

Five years ago, Avison first learned of 1935's greatness after finding a brief mention of it in a Tigers statistics guide. As a lifelong Detroit sports fan and history buff, Avison marveled at his discovery. It changed his life. He tried to learn more, but found minimal resources. With old newspaper clippings as his primary source of information, Avison began learning all about the period when, he says, Detroit sports were born.

The good news? “Nobody has taken the ‘City of Champions' title,” according to Avison, “It's still there–we've just forgotten about it,” he said. Avison believes many people chose to toss Depression-era memories, including those of 1935's victories, and concentrate on moving forward after World War II. His full-time job is making sure nobody forgets again. He wants to give people something positive to associate with Detroit. “All I've got is my conviction that this story can bring a positive benefit to not only Detroit, but Michigan, as well,” he said. Avison also feels responsibility to honor the teams involved and provide resources on this deep vein of history.

Avison started his own publishing company, Diomedea, to publish books on this era. He wrote one himself, Detroit: City of Champions, which was published last year, and is working on another. He travels Michigan, informing people of Detroit's standing title and trying to bring back Champions Day as an annual event. And he wants to do it now. “If it is not relevant enough to bring back the story for the 75th anniversary, when will it be relevant?” Avison asked. “Do we have to wait for the 100th anniversary, when the memories are even more faded?”

Coincidentally, the 1935 season happened during the Great Depression, a time when many believed Detroit was hit hardest. “In the middle of the Depression, this season gave the city something that no other city could give its fans,” said Avison. Despite the city's current struggles, he believes this history gives Detroiters something they can still hold onto: pride. “Detroit's already lost enough of its former grandeur. This is one thing that cannot be taken,” he said. “Because even if another city does win three national championships in one season, who are you going to put up against Joe Louis?” Touché, Mr. Avison. So, fans of Detroit Sports and Detroit City, take heart. We have plenty of problems. But we are still Detroit, City of Champions.

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