- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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FORKS, Wash. -- The student-athletes at Forks High School would like rival players, opposing fans and visiting Twi-Hards to understand several things:
No, they aren't vampires (or werewolves). No, garlic cloves aren't nearly as effective against their team as a 4-3 defense, a full-court press or a nasty curveball. No, Bella and Edward don't really attend the high school. And, most important, no, you can't possibly come up with a "Twilight" reference that they haven't heard, like, a dozen times already.
"One of our biggest rivals is Montesano and we'll walk up and they'll go, 'Oh, it's the vampires.' We get that a lot," said Taylor Morris, a senior-to-be who plays softball for the Forks Spartans. "They call us vampires and werewolves a lot. They think it's funny but it's not. It gets really old and annoying."
"At a basketball game I was at, a kid just showed up with a garlic necklace and he wore it until game time," said Brittany Leavitt, who played soccer and softball for the Spartans before graduating this month. "Apparently, he thought it was going to ward off us vicious vampires."
"During football season, one of the teams came to the game with plastic vampire fangs in their mouths," said Spartans quarterback Brian Santman. "When you're sitting in the stands, you definitely hear what people are saying more than when you're out on the field playing. You can hear the other players saying anything about 'Twilight' they can think of."
On the other hand, Forks High School would like to thank all you Twi-Hards for swelling the athletic department budget by buying tickets to the Spartans' games and purchasing all their Spartans T-shirts and sweatshirts (and if you haven't gotten one yet, the school would be happy to arrange a solution). Why, when the city celebrated Bella's "birthday" last September, assistant principal and athletic director Kevin Rupprecht said the school took in $4,000 by giving tours of the building ("This is the science lab where Edward and Bella met") and selling souvenir shirts.
"It hasn't hurt," Rupprecht said of the thousands of dollars "Twilight" has brought to the school. "When I divide it out among all the programs they're all getting a few hundred dollars more. It helps. We have not had to make cuts in our athletic department, so that's very helpful."
So if you want to earn serious points with your significant other -- without going through complete sports withdrawal -- head to the town where Edward and Bella first kissed. There are sports for you here (more on that later), and, better yet, you'll be helping a worthy cause.
And with "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" set to premiere in theaters June 30, you might want to knife your way into Forks sooner than later to beat the crowds.
"I don't really mind it that much because there is lots of money coming into town right now," said junior wrestler Cutter Grahn. "And in tough times like it is now, it's probably helping us a lot more than if we didn't have it right now."
Forks is a rainy, one-stoplight town of 3,200 on the remote west (and wet) side of Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. Seattle is a four-hour drive away, including a ferry ride, and Rupprecht jokes that Forks is closer to outer space (62 miles) than the nearest Wal-Mart (67 miles).
The high school teams know all too well how isolated Forks is due to their lengthy bus trips to games. The nearest league opponent is Montesano, a 2½-hour drive, while some rivals are four hours to 4½ hours away. As soccer player Tyler Cortani said, hearing a vampire taunt after a four-hour bus ride is very tiresome.
In other words, you have to want to get to Forks. And until recently, not many did. One discouragement was (and is) the weather; Forks receives more than 10 feet of rain a year. Yes, that's FEET (the baseball team had every home game but one rained out this year). The other problem was the economy. Forks boasts it is the logging capital of the world. But as the logging industry declined over the decades, unemployment rose steadily.
"The main population has shifted from logging to corrections," said Sarah Decker, a longtime Forks resident in charge of attendance at the high school. "We've got the correction center north of town and the correction center south of town. So where the primary base of the community was logging, now it's correctional officers."
And "Twilight" fans. Thanks to author Stephenie Meyer choosing Forks sight unseen as the setting for her series about vampires, werewolves and forbidden teen love, the city has been revitalized by fans making the pilgrimage to see where Bella and Edward "live."
The number of visitors signing the city guest book rose from 10,000 in 2007 to 70,000 last year, according to the Forks Chamber of Commerce. Drive in on the two-lane Highway 101 and you'll pass signs pointing out logging reforestation areas, as well as signs informing that you are now entering the Twilight Zone.
"We think it's cool that people know where we are finally, but we don't really like that we're known for vampires," Morris said. "Like we were really known for logging and we're more proud of that.
"At first everyone was like, 'Ughh, I hate Twilight,' and some people are still like that but we're now kind of realizing that it's really good for our town and really interesting. It's brought in a lot of people."
Annette Bruno-Root is ready for them. Disappointed there was so little "Twilight" merchandise available when she visited the town for the first time in September 2008, Bruno-Root opened a "Dazzled by Twilight" souvenir store here two months later. In less than two years her business has expanded to include another store in Forks, plus one in Port Angeles, plus a restaurant and a bus tour. She said her business employs 55 people.
"By and large, Forks is a town that has a very rich history and culture in logging and they're very proud of that," Bruno-Root said. "So it was very hard for them to lose sight of being the logging capital of the world and become the vampire capital of the world. That said, a lot of people have come around to recognize that this was a town that was very much dying, to one of the most lucrative in the state."
In some cities, you have a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks. In Forks, you have a "Twilight" store across the street from a "Twilight" store. Forks Outfitters, the store in the book in which Bella works, has a plaque on one wall identifying Bella as its employee of the year for 2009. Which makes sense, given how much revenue she brought into a store with a separate section for "Twilight" souvenirs ranging from shirts, posters and boots to candy, wine and license plates.
Leppell's Flowers has added the name "Twilight Central" and sells vast amounts of "Twilight" merchandise. The beach resort owned by the Quileute tribe in La Push sells $55 "Twilight" toques with Jacob and Bella's names knit into them. There is a Jacob's Java stand just off the La Push beach.
How crazy is it? Even the locksmith advertises "Twilight" souvenirs.
"This used to be a dusty logging town. Now it's 'dazzled by Twilight' and everyone is at the trough -- including us," said Richard Chesmore, who owns a coffee shop on the main drag, plus a B&B on the nearby Sol Duc River. "There is a fraction of the town that doesn't like it at all but most businesses are elated. I'd love to sell this place in between the third and fourth movie, right at the cusp."
As "Dazzled by Twilight" customers price essential lunch boxes, bumper stickers, dolls, lotions, candles, shirts, baseball cards and stand-up cardboard figures inside the atmospherically dark store, lumber trucks rumble and rattle along Highway 101 immediately outside. There isn't a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalk this May afternoon, but that will change come summer and the release of the third "Twilight" movie.
"It blew up last summer," said Morris, who works part-time at a local motel when not in school. "Every motel room would be full. It looked like Las Vegas with so many people on the sidewalk and crossing the street."
Morris said she's met fans from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Europe. She and others have been asked more than a couple of times where to find Bella and Edward. Depending on their mood and "Twilight" tolerance, residents either respond by saying the characters are fictional -- "Are you stupid? There are no such things as vampires!" -- or sending the tourists off to look for them somewhere -- "You just missed them. They're going to the game in Montesano. But they would love to talk to you and it's only 2½ hours away."
"We have to give 'Twilight' tours and people come from all over the world just to spend a night," Morris said. "They'll just fly in because they're so interested. And there really isn't much to do here."
Well, that's not exactly true. Forks is set amid a recreational wonderland for everyone from families seeking natural beauty to adventure addicts seeking adrenaline fixes. The mossy cathedral of towering ancient trees that is the Hoh Rain Forest and the lonely but spectacular beaches of the coast are nearby for hiking and camping. Pacific waves lure adventurous surfers and fishermen. The snowy peaks and foothills of the Olympic Mountains challenge climbers and mountain bikers.
And the weather isn't quite as bad as advertised. At least not in the normally dry summer. It not only didn't rain during my two-day visit in May, I enjoyed a glowing sunset at La Push and a beach bonfire under a cloudless ceiling of stars. You won't always need an umbrella but you'll definitely need a memory card with plenty of available space.
"They'll come for 'Twilight' and they'll go, 'Oh, we love camping and this is so gorgeous,' and they'll come back," said Bruno-Root. "We've got kids who would give up Disneyland to say they want to go to Forks. It's amazing."
Or, if you visit during the school year, you can always take in a Forks Spartans game. Which many Twi-Hards do.
"You can spot them," Rupprecht said. "Everyone knows everyone in Forks; we're a small town. So at basketball games, football games, you know who the out-of-towners are. You see a group of four or five mid- to late 20s young ladies all wearing black and red and 'Kiss Me Edward' shirts. But they still buy our stuff. They'll ask, 'Can we buy your T-shirts?' 'Yes, you can. Let me help you with that.'"
Just don't expect to see vampires or werewolves or, for that matter, a movie set. Very little of the "Twilight" movies was filmed in Forks. If you want to see the high school building from the first movie, you'll have to drive about five hours to the southeast to Kalama, Wash.
"Kalama actually now has a Twilight Invitational track meet," Rupprecht said. "We haven't gone so far on that sort of stuff because some of our kids think that's a little too cheesy."
Leavitt, the soccer player, acknowledges that "Twilight" has been good for the economy but, personally, she can't explain the appeal. "I have no idea," she said. "I don't understand what is so great about a vampire in a rainy town."
Other options for sports tourists and their nonfan partners
It's easy enough finding a location that appeals to both partners in a relationship. Just go to a major city for a great mix of sports, culture, shopping and dining. But that's too obvious to fool anyone: "Honey, you take the 'Sex and the City' tour while I go to the Yankees game."
To really impress your significant other, you need to be subtle and creative. In addition to Forks, here are five other trips sure to please both the sports fan and the nonfan in a relationship.
1. Hawaii. It won't take much arm-twisting to convince either of you to visit Hawaii, and you needn't give up your sports fix, either. Just plan your trip around the Maui Invitational, the Triple Crown of Surfing or a University of Hawaii game.
2. Cooperstown, N.Y. Your partner may be suspicious at first, but not after you point out that Cooperstown is home to terrific museums besides the Baseball Hall of Fame, including the Farmers Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum, plus the summer Glimmerglass Opera and excellent Victorian architecture. It's also a quaint, lovely town on a beautiful lake. My sister likes baseball but isn't a fanatic, and she loved Cooperstown. So will your partner. Enjoy all the haps during Hall of Fame Weekend, July 23-26.
3. Grand Canyon. You and your partner can enjoy one of the wonders of the world, with the option of hiking the canyon or rafting. And you can always stop by the training camp of the Arizona Cardinals on your way back through Flagstaff ... and enjoy the wonders of Larry Fitzgerald catching a pass.
4. Asheville, N.C. Your partner will love this funky, arty town, best known as the home to the spectacular Biltmore Estate. You'll love catching the Asheville Tourists at McCormick Field (where Crash Davis hit the final home run of his career), and trying some white-water rafting.
5. Madison County, Iowa. Your partner tours the fabled bridges of Madison County and dreams about being swept away from a humdrum life by a worldly photographer from National Geographic. You go to Principal Park in nearby Des Moines and dream about an Iowa Cubs third baseman developing into a star who leads the Chicago Cubs to the World Series. Then the two of you share drinks at a romantic B&B and decide which dream is less realistic.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your comments and travel questions to Jim,
aka The Road Warrior.