Downtown aerial view

Why does Columbus love sports?

One of the many reasons Columbus has the best sports fans in the country is the opportunity to see great athletes and teams in action. Watching them on TV is great, but nothing beats being there – especially championship events, which push the competition and emotions up to levels that just make you want to jump up and shout.

With this in mind, get ready for the 2016 Year in Sports in Columbus. It’s going to blow your mind, as an incredible list of world-class athletes and teams take to the courts, ice, pitch, lanes, links and streets of our city.

Championship events? We got ‘em.

Here’s a small sampling (in chronological order): USA Track & Field Half Marathon Championships in April; the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) National Championships in July; the U.S. Senior Open in August; and the NCAA Div. I Women’s Volleyball Finals in December.

Then there’s the Blue Jackets, who will host training camp of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey; the Crew and Clippers, who each hosted championship games in 2015. The Buckeyes won four National Championships; Columbus will host 19 Ohio High School Athletic Association championships and of course the Arnold Sports Festival will be back!

OK, you get the point: Columbus is home to big-time sports events. Let’s break some of this down, sport-by-sport.

Volleyball

Girls NCAA VolleyballColumbus is the volleyball capital of the Midwest and, after this year, perhaps the entire United States.

Landing the NCAA Div. I Women’s Finals was a great accomplishment, and recognition of the city’s standing in the volleyball world for collegiate and amateur events. “I don’t know any other city that hosts more volleyball activity,” said Bob Price, head of the Ohio Valley Region of USA Volleyball. “Columbus has more courts and more people playing volleyball than any other city.”

One of the biggest names in volleyball, three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, is the keynote speaker at The Women’s Sports Report on Feb. 17. And, as if this isn’t enough, USA Volleyball will hold its Girls’ Junior National Qualifier Jan. 29-31 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center; the Junior Volleyball Association SummerFest is June 4-5 at the Convention Center; and the American Volleyball Coaches Association will hold its annual convention here in December during the NCAA championships, which will also be broadcast around the country on ESPN.

Women’s Basketball

NCAA Women's Basketball gameThis year is the first of an exciting three-year run of NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament action in Columbus.

Capital University hosts the Div. III semifinals on March 19; Ohio Dominican hosts the Div. II Elite 8 and National Championship games in 2017; and Nationwide Arena is the site of the 2018 Div. I Women’s Final Four with Ohio State as the host.

This marks the first time the city has hosted the Div. I Women’s Final Four. “It is one of the most sought after events in the sports marketplace because it is much more than three basketball games,” said Miechelle Willis, Deputy Director of Athletics of Ohio State Athletics. The Final Four is expected to generate $20 million in visitor spending, and the 40,000 fans are expected to book 14,000 hotel room nights. The three games will also be nationally televised on ESPN.

Soccer (AKA: Football)

Soccer playerMAPFRE Stadium has become a home field or sorts for the U.S. Men’s National Team, and they will take on Guatemala on March 29 in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier before what is sure to be a sellout crowd of red-white-and-blue wearing, flag-waving fanatics. Crew SC midfielder and Gahanna native Wil Trapp is becoming more and more of a figure on the USMNT as well.

The Columbus Eagles FC will host the WPSL semifinals on July 30 at Otterbein University’s Memorial Stadium, with the finals the following day. The ultimate aim of the Eagles is to become a professional women’s team and to join the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).  This would raise Columbus’ profile even more.

“It will be a signature year for both men’s and women’s soccer in Columbus,” said Linda Logan, Executive Director of the Sports Commission.

Track & Field

The OhioHealth Capital City Half Marathon and Men’s and Women’s USA Half Marathon Championships will be held here on April 30 – and then again in 2017. The event is expected to attract 15,000 runners, including scores of elite racers and potential Olympians from around the country, as well as locals of all levels who will be able to say they were part of a national championship event. The race will be broadcast live for the first time on WBNS 10TV.

Marathon start lineAnd then there’s the annual and massive Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon and ½ Marathon in October. The National Black Marathoners Association will hold its Annual Summit in conjunction with the race. Close to 400 members from around the country will come to run in the marathon or ½ marathon and the 2nd Annual Jesse Owens Jog the day before.

“The NBMA is very excited about converging in Columbus and participating in the weekend activities,” said Tony Reed, Executive Director of the association. “We were impressed with the 2015 Jesse Owens Jog and the Columbus Marathon and lookforward to the 2016 editions.”

Speaking of Jesse, this will be a big year for the legendary Olympian. The premier of Race, the biopic about the Buckeye Bullet is set for Feb. 19.

US Senior Open logoGolf - In addition to Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament in June, Scioto Country Club will host the U.S. Senior Open Aug. 11-14, as the course celebrates it’s 100th anniversary. It has also been 30 years since the last tournament at Scioto, which was also the USSO in 1986. The Scioto Country is one of just four courses in the country to have hosted five different major championships, dating back to the 1926 U.S. Open won by Bobby Jones.

“Scioto Country Club has always been a very special place to me,” said Nicklaus, who won 18 major professional championships, including four U.S. Opens. “It is where my father first introduced me to the game of golf at age 10; where I met my first instructor, long-time friend and mentor Jack Grout; and where my career really was nurtured.”

And Then…

The National Collegiate Men’s Gymnastics Finals will be held at St. John Arena April 14 -16; the NCAA Div. 1 Men’s Lacrosse Quarterfinals will be played in Columbus for the first time at Ohio Stadium May 21-22 and…

There’s so much more, but we’ll stop here. For now.

Stay tuned for updates on upcoming events, information on how to purchase tickets and recaps of several of the year’s biggest events and interviews with some of the biggest names in sports. And click here for the full schedule of sports events in Columbus in 2016.