Visiting “the Football Capital of the World”
By Dominique King

Visiting “the Football Capital of the World”

Over 700,000 footballs a year have been handmade in Ada, it's no wonder it's the sports "capital."

water tower in Ada

I hopped onto Ohio.org to find somewhere we hadn’t been in the past for a quick weekend getaway, and I ended up at a link for an inn on the campus of Ohio Northern University.

ONU’s pretty little campus offers a lot of amenities and activities you might expect from a larger school, along with a friendly, small-town atmosphere, but many sports fans know Ada better as the “football capital of the world”.

Ada is home to the Wilson Football factory that produces leather footballs for every major gridiron contest in the country.

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You wouldn’t guess it from the exterior of the unassuming factory building we found on one of Ada’s side streets, but the company supplies all NFL official game balls and footballs for the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl, the NCAA and footballs for many other leagues around the country.

The factory employs about 120 workers who produce as many as 4,000 footballs per day, or 700,000 footballs per year.

Wilson very occasionally hosts tours or displays of their vintage football collection during special events, but there are plans to eventually establish a Wilson Football Museum in Ada.

Sports fans can head over to the ONU campus to see athletes compete in about 20 varsity sports. Klondike, the school’s polar bear mascot, watches over the Dial-Roberson football stadium.

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ONU began as a normal school (or teacher’s college) during the late 1800s and accepted women as students and faculty from its earliest years. It later expanded with colleges for subjects like business, engineering, pharmacy and law. The United Methodist Church purchased Ohio Normal University in 1900, renaming it Ohio Northern University in 1903. The school remains a private, Methodist-affiliated institution today.

ONU once had a farm for its Agricultural College (disbanded in 1923). The school retained ownership of the farmland, giving the 300-acre campus a spacious feel and room for outdoor amenities like an 18-hole disc golf course and ONU’s fabled “Green Monster”, a 2.5-mile paved jogging path that circles campus.

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We wandered along the trail to find one of the several geocaches hidden on campus and to view some of the school’s public art.

Artwork on campus includes a dozen Western-themed, cast-bronze statues by artists like Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and James Fraser placed along the Green Monster between an apartment complex and the sports stadium. This section of the path earned the name “Remington Way” because  of the statues are Remington reproductions.

ONU has several galleries and fine arts exhibition venues, as well as the Freed Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts music, dance, lecture and theater performances. We stayed on campus at the Inn at Ohio Northern University. The inn is within easy walking distance of ONU attractions like the performing arts center, galleries, public art, sports stadium and the walking trail. Our room featured an electric fireplace, a view of the courtyard, high-speed Wi-Fi, breakfast included in the price of the room and nightly turndown service with a chocolate. The staff was friendly and helpful. We especially enjoyed talking to some of them who were ONU students.

Ada’s location along the historic Lincoln Highway also makes it a great base from which to explore the path of America’s first trans-continental highway through western Ohio.

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About the Author

Dominique King is a metro Detroit writer, hockey fan and frequent visitor to Ohio. She began her writing career as a freelance writer for local newspapers, covering business, art and regional travel topics for the Mirror Newspapers, the Daily Tribune and Hour Detroit Magazine. She has a degree in Communications (M.A.) from Detroit's Wayne State University and an interest in history. You can find Dominique writing about Midwest travel at https://www.midwestguest.com or connect with her on Twitter @midwestguest.