The Go-To Guide: Columbus Sporting Events That Are Fun for Families
Whether you enjoy minor-league baseball, professional hockey or soccer, golf or equestrian, Central Ohio has numerous choices for catching athletes in action. And some of them are free.
No matter the time of year, at least one of Central Ohio sports teams is in action. From high-profile professional teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Columbus Crew to those decked out in scarlet and gray, we have a lot to cheer for.
Additionally, the area hosts top events in bodybuilding, cycling and golf, and there’s a cool cross-section of other live sports action worth checking out as well.
Newcomers—and even some longtime residents—might not be aware of the robust mix of offerings, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the top opportunities to catch athletes in action—on the field, the ice, the golf course and even the streets. There’s something for almost every interest, and some of the ideas are inexpensive—or free.
Before you go, check with each organizations and/or venue on current COVID-19 policies.
To suggest an addition to our list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All American Quarter Horse Congress
Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave. (North Side), Columbus; quarterhorsecongress.com
For more than 50 years, Columbus has been home to this competition-and-trade show event, the world’s largest single-breed horse show. The Quarter Horse Congress draws more than 25,000 entries and more than 650,000 people to the city. The event boasts nearly a month’s worth of competitions—including some for young riders—in cutting, freestyle reining, western pleasure and more. The 2022 event is scheduled for Sept. 27 through Oct. 23.
Arnold Sports Festival
Greater Columbus Convention Center and other locations throughout Columbus; arnoldsportsfestival.com
When the March 2020 version of this annual mega-event was canceled due to the then-nascent COVID-19 outbreak, it was a signal that things were serious. Now, in 2022, the Arnold returns to its early spring spot on the calendar for the first time in three years.
Named for its founder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the event has called Columbus home since 1989. The city and the bodybuilder/movie star/politician embraced each other, making the event part of the fabric of the city.
What started as a bodybuilding competition has expanded to include a variety of other sports and fitness-related events, including the debut this year of the Slap Fighting Championships, as well as martial and a baton twirling competitions.
The 2022 Arnold is slated for March 3-6, with more than 20,000 athletes from around the world expected to participate.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Nationwide Arena, 200 W. Nationwide Blvd. (Arena District), Columbus; bluejackets.nhl.com
Few things can match the speed, skill and intensity of live hockey, and the NHL features the world’s best players. For more than 20 years, the Blue Jackets have been part of the excitement.
The organization has worked hard to build a family-friendly experience around the games themselves, with plenty of in-arena fun (including team mascot Stinger) and youth hockey often played on the big ice at intermission. The team offers bundled ticket packages, some of which include food, drinks and even skating passes for the OhioHealth Ice Haus at the arena. Also, the arena has multiple sets of family restrooms.
First-time attendees should be aware of the cannon that is fired every time the CBJ scores a goal. It can be startling for adults, even moreso for young children.
The regular season schedule runs October through April.
Huntington Park, 330 Huntington Park Lane (Arena District), Columbus; clippersbaseball.com
Take your kids out to the ballgame at scenic Huntington Park, home of the Columbus Clippers. The minor-league baseball team has been the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians since 2006.
Strollers are allowed, and there is a play area and family restrooms. The lawn, where visitors can sit on a blanket, and bleachers are popular places to watch the game. The team offers packages and promotions for families and groups.
Mascots LouSeal and Krash add to the already family-friendly atmosphere.
The 2022 season begins in early April.
Lower.com Field, 96 Columbus Crew Way, Columbus; columbuscrew.com
Not only was the Crew saved, but the squad won a title in 2020 and a new stadium was built in the Arena District, one that’s hosting its second season of MLS action starting in spring 2022.
Matches at Lower.com Field are notoriously family-friendly, with plenty of on-field action and off-field fun.
The Crew’s regular-season home schedule continues through October.
Columbus Eagles FC
Capital University Bernlohr Stadium, Bexley; and Resolute Athletic Complex, 3599 Chiller Lane, Columbus; columbuseaglesfc.com
Women’s soccer has a strong presence in Central Ohio as well, courtesy of the Columbus Eagles FC. The team features numerous players from Central Ohio high schools.
Eagles FC competes both outdoors, as part of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, and indoors, in the Premier Arena Soccer League.
Memberships (season tickets) are available for outdoor, indoor or both. Games
Fortress Obetz, 2015 Recreation Trail, Obetz; columbusprideultimate.com
The Pride is a professional women’s ultimate frisbee team competing in the Premier Ultimate League. The regular season is scheduled from April through June for 2022.
Columbus Rugby Club
Fortress Obetz, 2015 Recreation Trail, Obetz; columbusrugby.org
Primarily a club organization, Columbus Rugby does compete against teams from throughout the Midwest in both 15s and 7s (indicating the number of players in a lineup). Games take place spring through fall.
The Memorial Tournament
Muirfield Village Golf Club, 5750 Memorial Drive, Dublin; thememorialtournament.com
For more than 40 years, Jack Nicklaus has welcomed the world’s best golfers to Muirfield Village Golf Club to compete in The Memorial Tournament, likely the area’s signature sports event outside of Ohio State football.
When the greatest golfer of all time grew up in your city and played high school and collegiate golf there, you can bet that when he decides to host a PGA Tour event in his hometown, it’s going to be big.
Unless it’s raining, a day at the tournament is a beautiful walk on which visitors get to see the sport’s top players up close. Patrons of all ages are welcome on the course, and children ages 18 and younger are admitted free (up to four junior tickets with each paying adult). Strollers are allowed on the course.
Many kids love getting autographs after players have finished their rounds (Wednesday after the Pro-Am is an ideal time). The tournament’s Clubhouse Kids program includes events and activities both during the event and year-round.
The 2022 Memorial will be held May 30 through June 5. The Junior Golf Clinic held prior to the pandemic has not yet returned.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon
Downtown Columbus and surrounding suburbs; columbusmarathon.com
You don’t have to be a long-distance runner to be a part of this signature event in the capital city. Full marathon, half marathon, 5K and one-mile events are offered. Plus, a Kids’ Run and related expo are part of a day of fun for children and families.
More than 100,000 people watch this annual race that winds through Downtown, Bexley, the OSU campus, Grandview Heights and Upper Arlington. Indeed, the event is notable for its Patient Champions from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
It’s a full weekend of run and fun, with the signature races held Oct. 16 in 2022.
Tour de Grandview
Streets throughout Grandview Heights; tourdegrandview.com
This early summer event was founded more than a quarter-century ago, bringing a field of international professional racers to Central Ohio to compete on a course that winds through the streets of this Northwest-area neighborhood. And the free Kids Sprints Race typically attracts more than 100 participants.
For viewers, the Street Party features local bands, a beer garden and food trucks. Historically, some residences along the course traditionally host fantastic house parties.
The 2022 Tour de Grandview is set for June 10.
Don't Forget About College Sports
The Columbus area has an abundance of colleges and universities, many of which field numerous, sometimes champion, sports programs. In addition to enormously popular events at Ohio State University, there 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, lacrosse, soccer, tennis and track and field. The Crusaders compete in NCAA Division III and the Ohio Athletic Conference.
Denison University in Granville fields teams and athletes in 11 men’s and 13 women’s sports, including cross country, field hockey, tennis, squash and volleyball. The Big Red compete in the North Coast Athletic Conference and NCAA Division III.
Ohio Dominican University
Ohio Dominican University in Northeast Columbus has seven men’s and seven women’s sports teams, including basketball, 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 town. Most popular, of course, are its football and basketball (both men’s and women’s) teams, but student athletes compete in a host of NCAA-sanctioned events in both new and venerated facilities throughout campus.
Otterbein University in Westerville fields teams in nine men’s and nine women’s sports, including baseball, basketball, volleyball, golf 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 11 women’s sports, including basketball, field hockey, football, golf, wrestling and swimming and diving. The Battling Bishops compete in the North Coast Athletic Conference and NCAA Division III.