The Ohio History Connection's biggest exhibit in decades highlights the state's athletic champions.
In 1942, several decades before Chuck Csuri founded Ohio State’s Advanced Computer Center for Art and Design, the pioneer of digital animation was a trailblazer of a different sort. Under coach Paul Brown, Csuri was an All-American lineman and captain of OSU’s first national championship football team, which helped solidify the Buckeyes as a collegiate powerhouse.
Csuri tells the tale of that milestone season in an oral history for Ohio—Champion of Sports, a new exhibit at the Ohio History Connection debuting March 16. It’s the museum’s biggest display in decades, says executive director Burt Logan, and it features 70 stories about 25 sports, many of them told by the people who lived them. The show is also the center’s first to treat a subject thematically rather than chronologically, a model OHC hopes to replicate with topics like agriculture and aeronautics.
Ohio—Champion of Sports highlights landmark moments and great contributions from Ohioans, such as James “Buster” Douglas’ improbable 1990 knockout of Mike Tyson and Jesse Owens’ golden trip to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, as well as other achievements that received less fanfare. Here are a few champs and trailblazers from close to home.
Breaking barriers is a theme throughout the exhibit, and few have done so as many times as racecar driver Sarah Fisher. Born in Commercial Point near Rickenbacker Airport, Fisher became the youngest person to start an Indy Racing League event as an 18-year-old freshman at OSU in 1999. The following year, she set the mark for the youngest female driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, and later that season was the first woman in IRL history to make the podium for a top-three finish. Fisher also became the first woman to own an IRL racing team in 2008.
On Jan. 10, 2018, the Capital University women’s basketball team beat Heidelberg University to give coach Dixie Jeffers her 700th career win, a feat achieved by only four other Division III women’s basketball coaches. Now in her 36th year as a head coach, 33 with Capital, she has led the Crusaders to two national titles and was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. Jeffers, appropriately, was born in Mount Victory, Ohio.
An hour northwest of Columbus sits the tiny town of LaRue, which is the smallest community ever to host an NFL franchise, the Oorang Indians. In 1922, Walter Lingo founded the team as a publicity stunt for his Airedale breeding operation, Oorang Kennels, according to the Professional Football Researchers Association’s magazine. All the players were Native American—the only such team in history—and they were led by Jim Thorpe, arguably the greatest athlete of his time. The Indians folded after just two seasons, with an overall record of 4-16, having played only one home game, in nearby Marion.
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