In 1920, a group of professional football team owners gathered in a Canton car dealership and signed the papers forming what would become as the NFL.
In 1935, Clevelander Jesse Owens had a record-breaking day at the Big Ten meet in Michigan while competing for Ohio State. A year later, he was a gold medalist in the Olympics in Berlin, competing in an audience that included German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
In 1947, Indians owner Bill Veeck signed Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues, making Doby the first African-American player in the American League, a scant 10 weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in the National League – and the major leagues.
These are just some of the illustrious moments in sports history the state of Ohio can claim – and they’re some of the items commemorated at a new exhibit at the Ohio History Connection, “Ohio – Champion of Sports.” The exhibit opened March 16, and will run through September 2020.
Obviously, Cleveland and Cincinnati are both represented for their NFL and major league teams, and Columbus is represented through Ohio State University and the Blue Jackets of the NHL. But Ohio’s sports history goes beyond the big cities. There are artifacts from the Soap Box Derby, held annually in Akron (and started in Dayton). A display commemorates the Waterloo Wonders, the state high school basketball champions in 1934 and 1935, who dazzled crowds with their ball movement and later became a professional barnstorming day. Another shows the Oorang Indians, a football team in the 1920s from Larue in Central Ohio – which remains the smallest city ever to be home to an NFL team. And my hometown of Youngstown is represented with a display for Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini, a lightweight boxing champion in the 1980s and inspiration for a Warren Zevon song.
It’s not just artifacts. You can listen to interviews from accomplished Ohioans like Jim Tressel and Jack Nicklaus – and there are interactive displays that offer the chance to participate, from recording your own celebration dance to testing your basketball skills.
There are also plenty of other exhibits to see at Ohio History Connection. One details the wildlife and natural history of Ohio. And there’s an exhibit on the 1950s, with a Lustron home as its centerpiece (you have to use your imagination for the bomb shelter). Lustron, a Columbus company, made prefabricated enamel-coated steel houses after World War II. There’s even a trolley car that formerly traveled the streets of Lancaster.
The sports exhibit is reason enough to visit, whether you know just the basics or are a little better-versed in sports history. But it’s not the only reason to visit – you’ll find Ohio history, hands-on experiences and more at the Ohio History Connection.
For more history, Find It Here. at Ohio.org.