The Go-To Guide: Spectator Sports
Editor’s note: For the most up-to-date version of this list, go to columbusparent.com/spectatorsports.
Central Ohio is definitely a sports town, with fans who rally passionately behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Ohio State Buckeyes and a variety of other athletic endeavors.
We've compiled a list of some of the area's best opportunities to catch athletes in action—from collegiate players to professionals—in activities such as bodybuilding, equestrian, golf and, of course, football. You'll find something for just about every interest, and some of the ideas are inexpensive—or free.
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All American Quarter Horse Congress
Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave.; quarterhorsecongress.com
The world's largest single-breed horse show will celebrate its 51st year in 2017. This annual event packs the Ohio Expo Center each October—last year with 23,500 horses and 650,000 people—and contributes a significant local economic impact, to the tune of $275 million. The event features quarter horse competitions (including youth contests), a trade show, classes and more. This year's event will be held Oct. 3-29.
Arnold Sports Festival
Various locations throughout Columbus; arnoldsportsfestival.com
Since debuting in 1989 as the Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition, this annual event has pumped itself up into the world's largest multisport fitness weekend, according to organizers. Next year, it is expected to top 70 sports and events. Youth have their own competitions, and the Arnold SportsWorld Kids & Teen Expo caters to families.
Every year, the event's namesake—champion bodybuilder, actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger—comes to Columbus for the festival he founded. There's even a statue of him in front of the Greater Columbus Convention Center—one of the festival venues, along with the Ohio Expo Center, Express Live, the Hilton Columbus Downtown and Hollywood Casino Columbus to name a few. About 185,000 attendees are projected to see 18,000 athletes compete in the 2018 event, which is March 1-4.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Nationwide Arena, 200 W. Nationwide Blvd. (Arena District); bluejackets.nhl.com
The Columbus Blue Jackets made the playoffs again in 2017, the team's third postseason appearance since its National Hockey League debut in 2000. The CBJ have a loyal fan following. Games are family-friendly, and the team offers bundled ticket packages, some of which include food, drinks and even ice skating passes for the OhioHealth Ice Haus at the arena. The IGS Energy Zone on the main concourse level has a children's hockey rink and NEOS electronic play area, and the arena has multiple sets of family restrooms.
Team mascot Stinger usually makes the rounds and there are giveaways and promotions during breaks in the games. First-time attendees should warn children about the cannon, which is fired every time the CBJ scores a goal. The team's 2017-18 season runs Oct. 6 to April 7.See the online version of this story for tips on taking your family to a Blue Jackets game.
Check out our story for tips on taking the family to a CBJ game.
Huntington Park, 330 Huntington Park Lane (Arena District); clippersbaseball.com
The Columbus Clippers minor-league baseball team is affiliated with the Cleveland Indians. The team won back-to-back Triple-A National Champions titles in 2010 and 2011. Huntington Park has been their home since 2009, when the team moved from Cooper Stadium on the West Side.
The ballpark is roomy enough to seat 10,100 spectators, but has a cozy feel. Strollers are allowed, and there are family restrooms. The lawn, where visitors can sit on a blanket, and bleachers are popular places to watch the game. On Sundays, Bob Evans Family Days offer two adult and up to four youth tickets for $15 in select sections, and kids get to run the bases after the game.
The freeHuntington Knot Hole Club gives kids 12 and younger free admission to Wednesday night home games. The MVP Kids Club, which has an annual fee, includes player meet-and-greets, swag and other perks.
Lucky kids might meet mascots LouSeal or Krash or—if they're sitting close to the field—get a ball from a player. The last home game of the 2017 season is Sept. 4.
Columbus Crew SC
Mapfre Stadium, 1 Black & Gold Blvd.; columbuscrewsc.com
Fun fact: Mapfre Stadium (originally Crew Stadium) was the first soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. Though it now also hosts a variety of other events, including concerts, the venue has hosted the Major League Soccer team and its diehard fan following since 1999.
The Columbus Crew SC, which was founded in 1996, won the MLS Cup in 2008; MLS Eastern Conference Champions titles in 2008 and 2015; Supporters' Shield titles in 2004, 2008 and 2009; and the U.S. Open Cup in 2002.
Games are family-friendly, and pregame activities outside Mapfre Stadium are popular. Family ticket bundles, which include tickets, food and drinks, are available for the Aug. 12 game. Kids 14 and younger can register for the chance to be a Crew SC Ball Kid; the team picks 12 per home game. The last home game of the season is Sept. 30.
Columbus Eagles FC
Otterbein University Memorial Stadium, 121 Center St., Westerville; columbuseaglesfc.com
The Columbus Eagles FC competes in the Women's Premier Soccer League. The amateur team, in its fourth season, has numerous players from Central Ohio high schools. The Eagles' 2017 season spanned March 31 to July 22.
The Memorial Tournament
Muirfield Village Golf Club, 5750 Memorial Drive, Dublin; thememorialtournament.com
When the Memorial Tournament became a stop on the PGA Tour, it helped put Dublin—and Central Ohio—in the national spotlight. The annual event, which began in 1976, is played at Muirfield Village Golf Club on a course designed by legend Jack Nicklaus, who wanted to bring a first-class PGA tournament to his hometown.
As with any PGA event, loud noise is a no-no, but the event still is family-friendly. Children ages 18 and younger are admitted free with a paying adult, and strollers are allowed on the course. The Memorial's Clubhouse Kids program ($5.95) aims to educate participants about golf and provides a welcome pack with swag. Kids love getting autographs after players have finished their rounds (Wednesday after the Pro-Am is an ideal time), and Wednesday also brings Junior Golf Day and the evening Junior Golf Clinic, which features tips from a pro playing in the Memorial. A tournament ticket is not required for the clinic. The 2018 Memorial will be held May 28 to June 3.
The New AlbanyClassic Invitational Grand Prix & Family Day
4584 Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road, New Albany; thenewalbanyclassic.com
The New Albany ClassicInvitational Grand Prix & Family Day will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year with a bang: the return of pop superstar Nick Jonas. Jonas performed at the first Concert at the Classic with the Jonas Brothers in 2007.
Started in 1998 by Abigail Wexner, the New Albany Classic is an international equestrian competition combined with loads of family activities. In addition to the wildly popular Concert at the Classic with up-and-coming stars, the annual event features a world-class horse-riding competition and a sprawling family-fun area. More than 15,000 people attend each year. Proceeds benefit The Center for Family Safety and Healing, an organization dedicated to ending family violence. This year's event is Sept. 24.
Ohio Dominican University, 1216 Sunbury Road; theohiomachine.com
The Ohio Machine made its debut in Major League Lacrosse in 2012. Since then, the team has steadily gotten more exposure. In 2016 and 2017, the Machine had seven nominations to the All-Star Game. This year, three of its players were chosen for the US Lacrosse training team that will compete in the 2018 Federation of International Lacrosse Men's World Championship. The 2017 season is May 6 to July 29.
Ohio Roller Girls
Ohio Building at the Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave.; ohiorollergirls.com
The Ohio Roller Girls, a competitive league for female roller-derby athletes that started in 2005, offers a fun and fast-paced alternative to mainstream sports. The players (many of whom use catchy pseudonyms such as Bigg Rigg and Elektra Magneto)are also active in the community, helping a variety of charitable organizations and causes. The 2017 season was March 18 to July 15.
The region has an abundance of colleges and universities, many of which field robust sports programs. In addition to enormously popular events at Ohio State University, there also are other schools with solid fan followings. Best of all, ticket prices often are very reasonable—or even free.
Capital University in Bexley has nine men's and nine women's sports, including basketball, football, soccer, tennis and track and field. The Crusaders compete in NCAA Division III and the Ohio Athletic Conference.
Ohio Dominican University
Ohio Dominican University in Northeast Columbus has seven men's and seven women's sports teams, including basketball, football, golf, soccer and volleyball. The Panthers compete in NCAA Division II and are part of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.
Ohio State University
Fans rooted for the Ohio State University Buckeyes long before there were professional sports teams in Columbus. Most popular, of course, are its winning football and basketball teams (both men's and women's), but the university also fields many other teams and NCAA championship events.
Otterbein University in Westerville fields teams in 10 men's and nine women's sports, including baseball, basketball, football, volleyball and wrestling. The Cardinals compete in NCAA Division III and the Ohio Athletic Conference.
Ohio Wesleyan University
Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware has 11 men's and 12 women's sports, including basketball, field hockey, football, golf and swimming and diving. The Battling Bishops compete in the North Coast Athletic Conference and NCAA Division III.