Columbus – July 2020 – Sports Venues Past and Present

Today we take a look at the extensive history of sports venues in Columbus. While many are associated with Ohio State University, the city has a long history of professional sports.

 

Baseball

For more than 150 years they have played professional baseball in Columbus – all at the minor league level.

The first true stadium in the city was one of the first in the country to be constructed of concrete and steel. Previously many were built of wood, and often burnt down.

The stadium was called Neil Park.  It was located on Cleveland Avenue just north of downtown.

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This stadium was the home to professional baseball until the 1930s. Today there is no sign of any history of the venue, now being a facility for Abbott Labs

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The next stadium was built on the near west side of the city, along Mound Street. It was originally named Redbirds Stadium, as the team was a farm team for the St Louis Cardinals, and were called the Columbus Redbirds.

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The stadium served the city until 2008, although it changed names a few times, usually when the team changed names. From 1955 until 1970 they were the Columbus Jets

 

 

Finally it was named after a county commissioner who was able to secure a team in the 1970s after a 6 year absence, Harold Cooper.

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Today it sits vacant, partially torn down. It has been the subject of numerous schemes for redevelopment over the years, but nothing has come of it.

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The current stadium is called Huntington Park (the naming rights were sold to a local bank). It is located much closer to downtown, in the middle of a large area of gentrification.

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Professional Football

The National Football League generates the most revenue of any sports league in the world, with it’s 32 teams scattered across the United States. But the NFL did not start out that way – they started in an assortment of cities and towns scattered around the Great Lakes, including Columbus.

For 12 years their headquarters was in  the historic New Hayden Building.

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The Columbus team was comprised mostly of railroad workers who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Panhandle Division. So named because it traversed the Northern West Virginia panhandle, the railroad had a large yard on the south side of the city.

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While most of the teams in the league were made up of former college players, the Panhandles were tough railroad workers who quickly became known for their physical play. Their logo was reflective of the Pennsylvania Railroad Logo

 

Because they worked for the railroad, and had free travel on the trains, they played most of their games in other cities. Their home field in Columbus was at Indianola Park, an amusement park located just north of the city.

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Today the former Amusement Park and NFL home is a strip mall and church.

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College Football

What Columbus lacks in professional football it makes up in college football. Ohio State  football. The budget for athletics at Ohio State is over $200m a year, with the football program generating much of that revenue. But it wasn’t always that way.

The first team was fielded in 1890, with 22 players making the trip to the nearby town of Delaware, Ohio for a game again Ohio Wesleyan College.

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Later that year they had their first home game. It occurred a few miles away from campus at a field in German Village – now home to a grocery store.

 

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Football quickly became popular and the university built their own stadium – Ohio Field. This field was located on North High Street – near 17th Avenue.

Most people sat around the field until 1907 when the first stands were built. As college football continued to be very popular and by the time the stadium was abandoned in 1921 it has seating for 14,000.

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Today a parking garage and campus buildings occupy the site.

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With much debate and fanfare the university opened Ohio Stadium in 1922, with an astounding 62,000 seats. Many thought they would never fill it, but by the last game of the year again Michigan they did.

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Today it seats over 105,000.

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Ohio State football is such a big deal they have this airplane hangar sized indoor practice facility, complete with a statue of legendary coach Woody Hayes out front.

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Arenas

Columbus is home to a number of arenas that have served the city and university over the years.

The State Fairgrounds Coliseum (aka – Taft Coliseum) was built in 1918 with 5000 permanent seats. It has hosted everything from Ohio State basketball to minor league hockey games to horse shows, and one of the venues for ‘The Arnold’.

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St Johns Arena

The Fairgrounds Coliseum served as the home to Ohio State basketball until the 1950s when St Johns Arena was completed on campus.

It was opened in 1956, named for a former basketball coach and athletic director. The 13,276 seats are very cool old school wood.

Once Scottenstein Center was completed, the arena has been relegated to secondary sports like gymnastics and volleyball.

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Nationwide Arena

The only major league team in town, the Columbus Blue Jackets, play their home games at Nationwide Arena. Completed in 2000 for the expansion Blue Jackets it is typical of the arena’s built in the last 25 years – with a large number of luxury suites, and quirky designs including an ear piercing cannon that they shoot off when they score.

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Schottenstein Center – Value City Arena

This 20,000 seat arena opened just a couple of years before Nationwide Arena, so the city has 2 very large indoor venues.

When they were planning both arenas the city wanted the site to be downtown, whereas the university wanted it on campus – 3 miles north. When the university didn’t get what they wanted they ‘took their ball and went home’.

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Soccer

Mapfre Stadium

When the MLS started in the 1990s all of the teams played in stadiums built for American football. The Columbus Crew was no different, playing in the 105,000 seat Ohio Stadium.

In 1999 they became the first MLS team to build a soccer specific stadium. This 20,000 seat stadium sits on part of the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Ironically they sometimes played high school football here as well.

In 2015 they sold the naming rights to an insurance company, hence ‘Mapfre Stadium’.

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After shaking down the city and state with a threat to move to Austin, Texas the Crew has received 1/2 of the $200m required to build a new stadium downtown.

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The artist renderings show what a difference it will be.

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Jesse Owens Stadium

Our last venue is on the Ohio State campus, Jesse Owens Stadium. This facility is home to track and field, as well as soccer.

In front is a statue and Ohio Historical Marker detailing the amazing feats of Jesse in the 1936 Olympics.

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Columbus – April 2019 – Ohio Sports History

The Ohio History Center recently opened an exhibit on the history of sports in Ohio. It featured both professional and team sports, as well as sports geared toward participation, such as these classic old roller skates.





The Cincinnati Bengals came into existence as part of the American Football League (AFL), a couple of years before they merged with the NFL. The exhibit had a rare referee’s uniform from the AFL days.





A classic bowling shirt from the 1960s.





One of the most famous annual events in the state is the world soap box derby championships in Akron.





While the NBA was in existence in the early 1960s, college basketball was bigger. An offshoot of that was big time AAU basketball – Cleveland had a team that was the National Champions in 1961.





The 1970s Cincinnati Reds were a powerhouse team, lead by catcher Johnny Bench and the now disgraced Pete Rose.





High School football is big time in Ohio, and are none are bigger than the Massillon – Canton McKinley rivalry.





Probably the most famous athlete from Ohio today is LeBron James.

The exhibit was ok, but given how much sports history there is in Ohio it seemed lacking in depth and detail.

Canton – April 2017 – Pro Football Hall of Fame revisit

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame is somewhere I have been numerous times over the years, but not since 2014. Since I was in Northern Ohio and had some time I stopped by.

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The only fundamental change is a football card display, the rest of the displays were the same as three years ago. Still with new lenses and a different perspective it was a good chance to challenge the photography skills.

 

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Columbus – January 2015 – National Champions and All Stars

The Ohio State football team had won the National Championship on January 12, 2015, and it was announced a week or so later they would be having a free celebration at Ohio Stadium.

With open seating we arrived early, and parked near the Ohio Union to walk across campus. I was expecting to see a lot of people milling about but there were few.

We entered the stadium and tried to find somewhere, anywhere that had a bit of sun and was out of the wind as the temperature was 30 degrees with wind chills in the teens.

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Eventually 45,000 showed up, filling most of the lower bowl, and the brief ceremony began. After the trophy presentation I decided I had enough of the cold and we headed out, missing a few politicians speak (no loss there).

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That same weekend the NHL All Star game was in town and I had bought tickets to the All Star Fan Fair.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center had 200,000 square feet of interactive hockey fun for NHL Fan Fair.

NHL Fan Fair had interactive games and attractions, special appearances, trophy and memorabilia displays, live TV and radio broadcasts, music, and food

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Among the attractions were NHL Mascots, the Stanley Cup and other NHL Trophies, skills games, a Hockey in Ohio display and other displays.

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Overall it was ok, but almost everything was geared for kids, and it was packed, noisy from the music and generally a disappointment.

The All Star game itself did do a great job of attracting people from all over North America to Columbus, as we met people from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

The Convention Center also looked great inside and out with the decorating for the game and fan fair.

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Outside Nationwide Arena was the Columbus Blue Jackets All-Star Winter Park, located at McFerson Commons across the street from Nationwide Arena, featured an outdoor ice rink, massive three-lane snow slide down Nationwide Blvd. and served as the hub for outdoor entertainment venue before and during All-Star Weekend.

 

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Newport Beach, CA – March 2012 – Newport Sports Museum

The Newport Sports Museum, located in Newport Beach, California, was one man’s collection of memorabilia. The museum had  a great collection from football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf and the olympics.

Unfortunately the museum incurred a couple of burglary’s, prompting the owner to close the museum in 2014 and auction the rest off.

I really enjoyed this museum, it is sad to see it closed.

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Akron – Canton – September 2011 – A Tour of the Highlights of the Area

With a sunny early fall weekend with nothing to do, we played tourist in the area we lived.

A flower festival in Barberton

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Sand castles and carvings were on display

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The statue was even adorned with flowers.

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Akron was once the rubber capital of the world, and there is plenty of evidence of this – including Firestone Stadium, a depression era baseball stadium that has been converted for the Women’s Professional Softball team.

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Quaker Oats started in Akron – one of the old silo complexes was turned into a hotel, and later, University of Akron dorms.

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The new University of Akron football stadium – likely overbuilt as they never fill it.

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The William McKinley Memorial in Canton.

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The steps are a popular workout location.

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Canton is home to the Professional Football Hall of Fame – as the freeway bridge proclaims.

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Back in Akron – Fulton Airport – Home of the Blimp Hangar

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Athens, OH – September 2009 – Ohio University Football Game

Athens, Ohio is in southeast Ohio, far from any cities, but home to Ohio University. The campus has around 20,000 students, giving it more of a true college feel than Ohio State.

We were in town the day they had a football game, so we went. The atmosphere feels much more like a true college experience than that of a game in Columbus with 100,000 people. Peden Stadium in Athens holds about 20,000.

Besides the football they were having a marching band contest before the game, adding a lot of color to the event.

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Ithaca, NY – June 2009 – A Visit to Cornell

While we continued our tour of law schools of the northeast, we made a stop at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. With a couple of hours to kill, I wandered the campus, emphasizing mostly on the classic old football stadium, and other athletic facilities.

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