Ohio: Home of Champions

Turns out the Buckeye State has quite the sports story to tell.

The Ohio History Connection in Columbus recently opened a new exhibit all about sports. “Ohio–Champion of Sports” began its 18-month run at the state history museum in March.

“Ohio’s contribution to national sports history is significant,” said Burt Logan, Ohio History Connection executive director & CEO. “From the founding of the NFL in Canton, to roots of Major League Baseball with the Cincinnati Reds, people like Jesse Owens and LeBron James, it’s impossible to tell America’s sports story without Ohio.”

“Ohio–Champion of Sports” features one-of-a-kind artifacts, archival collections, and first-person narratives covering more than 25 sports ranging from baseball, football and basketball to roller derby, skateboarding and e-gaming. The exhibit showcases the Ohio athletes, coaches, owners and fans at the center of the action.

The exhibit is a larger reflection of Ohio History Connection’s effort to become a different kind of history organization. Instead of telling history from their organization’s perspective, Ohio History Connection relies on first-person accounts from athletes, coaches, team owners and fans to fuel the exhibit experience.

“Boxer Buster Douglas, Cleveland Indians owner Paul Dolan and track star Stephanie Hightower are all featured,” said Logan. “By giving them the platform to share their stories in their own words, visitors can make a deeper connection to our state’s history.”

And instead of telling history chronologically, Ohio History Connection explores sports through the themes of character, adversity, innovation, identity, tradition, victory––values that relate to the human condition––to connect a broad audience to Ohio’s national sports history.

“’Ohio–Champion of Sports’ is a next generation exhibit for us that connects visitors to our state’s national sports history in new and modern ways,” explained Logan. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done.”

It’s also highly interactive. Visitors can test their basketball skills at the Wall of Hoops, record a “victory dance,” run an obstacle course, and record their “One Minute Legends” sports story to share with family and friends. They can also contribute their own sports photos to the museum experience. Collectively, these activities allow attendees to put their personal stamp on the exhibit.

The Ohio History Connection is a Smithsonian Affiliate. Through that partnership, the state history organization was able to bring an iconic artifact from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture to local visitors. LeBron James’s rookie jersey from his first season with the NBA will be on display until Sept. 29.

Visitors don’t need to be sports fans to connect to the story of Jesse Owens’s historic gold medal wins over Germany at the 1936 Olympics Games; or relate to Sarah Fisher’s groundbreaking role as the youngest woman to ever qualify for the Indy 500; or feel a sense of pride in the music of The Ohio State University Marching Band. This exhibit connects Ohioans to all of these important stories and more.

“Ohio–Champion of Sports” runs until Sept. 5 at the Ohio History Center, 800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus, Ohio. Learn more about the exhibit at ohiohistory.org/sports.

Considering a AAA membership? Learn more about our membership benefits.

Emmy Beach is assistant director of public relations and content marketing for the Ohio History Connection.