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In Geographical Stretch, American Hockey League To Expand to Kentucky

ON the surface, news that the minor American Hockey League will expand to Kentucky seems a novel and mostly insignificant development.

Nonetheless, it illustrates a strong current in American sports today, namely the race by sports leagues and entrepreneurs to test all potentially fertile markets, whether it's indoor beach volleyball in Madison Square Garden or hockey in Lexington's Rupp Arena.

Geographically, ice hockey seems a stretch in horse-and-hoops country, especially in Lexington, where the the University of Kentucky basketball team is king.

The group that made the decision to start the expansion team realizes the move looks ludicrous, given that there's no permanent ice surface in the 23,000-seat Rupp Arena and only one hockey rink of any kind within two hours of town.

Still, after exploring locations from New England to the Gulf of Mexico, the owners liked Lexington for a number of reasons, including:

*The University of Kentucky's club hockey team attracts 1,000 spectators per game despite having to play at midnight because of limited rink availability.

*UK basketball is so popular that many fans who might like to take their families to college basketball games can't get in. Minor-league hockey will provide a viewing option.

*There is no other professional sports competition in town and the team, while distant from any established AHL clubs, is positioned to be at the gateway of future league expansion.

The New Hampshire-based ownership group includes two officers of USA Hockey, the sport's national governing body. Walter Bush, USA Hockey's president, and Ron DeGregorio, its treasurer, are among the partners of the yet-unnamed pro team that won't see action until the 1996-97 season. Erik DeGregorio, Ron's son and a team spokesman, says the hardest decision was to wait a year before playing a game.

The Babe saluted in stamp and seminar

HOW widespread was Babe Ruth's fame? One measure was seen earlier this year on his 100th birthday. Guyana in South America issued a commemorative postage stamp to salute the occasion, and Liberia in Africa came out with a special dual coin set carrying Ruth's likeness. Also, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., held a two-day conference last month to study Ruth's impact on everything from law and poetry to the women's movement and international relations -- along with baseball, of course.

Ruth is the only player caught stealing on the final play of a World Series. He had no one to blame but himself, since he ran on his own in the 9th inning of Game 7 in the 1926 Series. With four home runs, Ruth had positioned himself to be the Series hero. Instead, he wore the goat horns after St. Louis catcher Bob O'Farrell stopped him at second base, thwarting his attempt to score the tying run.

Touching other bases

*Major football bowl games are on the brink of adopting a tie-breaking system. The Special Events Committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association has recommended a tie-breaking format in which each team would get an opportunity to score, with alternating offensive series starting on the opponents' 25-yard line. The committee also gave preliminary approval to a new postseason game, the Haka Bowl, to be played in New Zealand.

*For an athlete who has to scatter his training fire in 10 directions, Dan O'Brien, the reigning decathlon world record holder, is quite a sprinter. His best 100-meter time (10.23 seconds) would have earned him a 1980 Olympic gold medal in that event if he had competed. Credit the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles with this find.

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