The Go-To Guide: Family-Friendly Spectator Sports

Jim Fischer
Columbus Parent
Susan Jerotich won the women's division of the 2017 Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon.

Editor’s note: For the most up-to-date version of this list, go to

We Central Ohioans love our sports. Parents who aren't yet familiar with the passion for all things Blue Jackets, Memorial Tournament, #SavetheCrew and, of course, Ohio State Buckeyes, will be soon.

It's hard to say whether this love is fueled by the plethora of available sports options, or if these many live sports are fueled by our passion for them. Either way, the result is a robust mix of offerings, from baseball to equestrian to soccer.

We've compiled a list of some of the top opportunities to catch athletes in action—on the field, the ice, the dirt, the golf course and even the streets. You'll find something for just about every interest, and some of the ideas are inexpensive—or free.

To suggest an addition to our list, send an email to

All American Quarter Horse Congress

Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave. (North Side);

Columbus is home to the world's largest single-breed horse show, which marks its 52nd year in 2018. The event draws almost 25,000 entries and more than 650,000 people to the Ohio Expo Center for workshops, a trade show and nearly a month's worth of competition, including categories for young riders. This year's event will be held Oct. 2-28.

Arnold Sports Festival

Various locations throughout Columbus;

This is a signature event, not just among bodybuilding or even sports fans but as a piece of the fabric of Columbus. That can happen when your event is the world's largest multisport fitness weekend. And when, every year since its inception in 1989, the event's founder and namesake—champion bodybuilder, actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger—comes to town to show how important it is to him.

The former bodybuilding competition has expanded to include a host of Olympic events, such as archery, judo and table tennis, and alternative strength events like Scottish Highland games and arm wrestling. Youth have their own competitions, and the Arnold SportsWorld Kids & Teen Expo caters to families.

The 2019 Arnold is slated for Feb. 28 through March 3. About 22,000 athletes are expected to participate in more than 75 events—drawing some 200,000 spectators.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena, 200 W. Nationwide Blvd. (Arena District);

Improving fortunes on the ice—the Columbus Blue Jackets qualified for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 2018—add to an already-first-rate fan experience at Nationwide Arena.

Blue Jackets 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 interacts with young and old(er) fans alike.

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 more so for young children.

The Blue Jackets' home opener is Oct. 5, and the regular season runs through April 6.

Columbus Clippers

Huntington Park, 330 Huntington Park Lane (Arena District);

The Columbus Clippers minor-league baseball team has been the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians since 2006. The team has called Huntington Park home since 2009, after moving from Cooper Stadium on the West Side.

A night at the stadium is an experience in its own right. The traditional sights, sounds and smells of live baseball are enhanced by the beautiful setting of Huntington Park, which seats more than 10,000 but feels intimate.

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. 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.

Kids might meet mascots LouSeal or Krash or—if they're sitting close to the field—get a ball from a player. The last game of the 2018 season is Sept. 3.

Columbus Crew SC

Mapfre Stadium, 1 Black & Gold Blvd.;

Even if you're not a soccer fan, you probably know this could be the last season for the Columbus Crew SC. The local future of the team, which has played here since 1996, remains up in the air amid a possible move to Austin, Texas.

If you're looking to capitalize on World Cup fever or have been meaning to check out the hometown team, note that this season's final game at Mapfre Stadium (originally Crew Stadium and the first soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. when it opened in 1999) is Oct. 28. Games are family-friendly, and pregame activities outside Mapfre Stadium are popular.

The Crew 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.

Columbus Eagles FC

Otterbein University Memorial Stadium, 121 Center St., Westerville;

The Columbus Eagles FC competes in the Women's Premier Soccer League. Typically, the team plays eight home games in a season. The Eagles' 2018 season spanned April 7 to July 8.

The amateur team features numerous players from Central Ohio high schools.

The Memorial Tournament

Muirfield Village Golf Club, 5750 Memorial Drive, Dublin;

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.

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. The event brought new national attention to Central Ohio, and, at the time, gave it a sports-world identity beyond Ohio State.

As with any PGA event, loud noise is frowned upon, 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 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 2019 Memorial will be held May 27 to June 2.

Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon

Downtown Columbus and surrounding suburbs;

More than 100,000 people watch this annual race that winds through Downtown, Bexley, the OSU campus, Grandview Heights and Upper Arlington. The course is notable for its Patient Champions from Nationwide Children's Hospital, who cheer on some 7,000 runners in the full marathon and 11,000 in the half-marathon.

This year's race, set for Oct. 21, marks the 39th year for the marathon and 13th for the half. There are plenty of great places to spectate, with activities planned at several, including Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Celebration Village at the finish line. A Kids' Run and related expo are available for children and families.

Ohio Machine

Fortress Obetz, 2050 Recreation Trail, Obetz;

The 2017 Major League Lacrosse champion Ohio Machine debuted in 2012, but the 2018 season was its first at Fortress Obetz, just south of Columbus.

MLL features some of the best former college lacrosse players. The Machine sent five players to the 2018 MLL All-Star Game.

The team's 2018 season was April 29 to Aug. 4.

Ohio Roller Girls

Ohio Building at the Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave.;

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 sport may resemble your grandparents' roller derby (and some of the players even have outsized nicknames and personalities just like back in the day) but these are modern athletes through and through.

The 2018 season ran from March through June.

Tour de Grandview

Streets throughout Grandview Heights;

This event, which bills itself as Ohio's Premier Cycling Event, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018. A field of international professional racers competes on a course that winds through the streets of this Northwest-area neighborhood.

The free Kids Sprints Raceattracted more than 100 children, ages 5-10, this year. The 2019 Tour de Grandview is set for June 14.

Campus Sports

The Central Ohio 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

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

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.