Hi blog readers! Yes, this blog still exists. I notice that my last post was almost a year ago, which means it’s time for the Big Ten Championship Game again. Here’s a roundup of last year’s trip — better late than never, right? Enjoy.
College football conference championship games have long been destination trips for fans around the country, with cities like Dallas, Atlanta and Charlotte, among others, turning their downtowns into big outdoor parties punctuated by a football game at the end.
For years, those of us in the upper Midwest missed out on the fun. The Big Ten conference was a longtime holdout before launching a championship game in Indianapolis in 2011. My professional sports writing career ended in 2010, so a late-fall journey to Indianapolis never materialized.
(Well, I was supposed to go one year as a fan, but my son got sick on the drive from our home in Dayton, Ohio, to Indianapolis. For more on that, click here.)
In 2017, Visit Indy reached out to me, a parenting blogger, to invite me to check out the Big Ten Championship Game and see how the city hosts a weekend of fun and football the first Saturday of December. Oh, and I should make sure to bring the kids, no small task considering my two boys were 5 and 2 at the time. I wondered how they’d handle two days of “press tripping” across the city and watching a 3-plus hour football game.
I got my answer. It was one of our best trips as a family and one my oldest son, Blake, still talks about today.
While the cost of tickets and lodging might make some fans hesitate about bringing the kids along for the game, the memories just might be worth the extra expense. The city offers plenty of free or low-cost activities for families with children, and the pregame setup itself includes family-friendly activities such as a fan fest and outdoor parties. All events take place downtown and are in walking distance from hotels and restaurants. It’s a similar format to when the city hosts NCAA men’s basketball regional rounds and Final Fours — let’s just say that downtown Indianapolis knows how to host a big sports party. (And I haven’t even mentioned the Indianapolis 500 each May!)
Ready for some kid-friendly fun? Here were the highlights from our 2017 trip.
Monument Circle tree: If you’re staying in a downtown hotel, you’ll be in walking distance to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Monument Circle, where you can see a brilliant display of lights in the shape of a Christmas tree. The tree lighting takes place after Thanksgiving, so Big Ten Championship Game visitors will be able to enjoy the view.
Fan Fest: All ticket holders get free entry to the Big Ten Fan Fest in the Indiana Convention Center. My kids loved running around and playing all of the interactive games, which included cornhole, a 40-yard-dash, hockey and football tosses. After an hour or two, we grabbed some food for sale and sat near flat-screen TVs broadcasting Big Ten basketball. Pep bands for both teams perform the day of the game.
The Fan Fest also offers a photo booth where you can take a picture of your crew with the Big Ten Championship Game trophy. This turned out quite well for all of us, especially considering how difficult it is to get multiple children to look at the camera at the same time and make normal faces!
Outdoor activities and concerts take place on Georgia Street. We didn’t make it to those events — there’s only so much that little ones can take in a day — but that might be a future destination as they get older.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Set aside some time for this one. Make it an all-day trip if you can. The museum is a short drive north from downtown and is touted as one of the top children’s museums in the nation. Offering permanent and rotating exhibits, the museum is a fun experience for children (and adults) of all ages. (See here for my previous story on the museum’s offerings for the littlest of littles.)
We missed the museum’s latest attraction, The Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience, which offers indoor and outdoor sports experiences to help kids get in the game and stay healthy. The Sports Legends Experience opened in March 2018, so visitors this year can take in the indoor experiences. The whole exhibit offers football, basketball, hockey, golf, running and other sport experiences. I’m sure the kids will take a good nap when they get back in the car.
Dinner time!: Downtown Indianapolis boasts plenty of restaurants within walking distance of major attractions, but get a reservation if you can at some of the more popular establishments.
Here are the boys enjoying dinner at Harry and Izzy’s. These might be the fanciest chicken fingers and mac n’ cheese I’ve ever seen. The boys were on their best behavior, sitting and eating quietly and avoiding food fights. Another dad even came to our table to compliment them on how well they were acting and said he could never get his kids to act like that in a fine dining establishment.
Yeah Dad, me either. I don’t know who these two kids are anymore!
Game on. After dinner, we headed to Lucas Oil Stadium, an easy walk from the convention center area. The 5-year-old and the 2-year-old walked the entire way with no complaints. The weather was in the 50s, encouraging us to make the trip outdoors. If it had been less temperate, we could have done most of the walk inside through the convention center, another plus.
Plus, fans of both teams wanted to talk to the boys – “Oh, they’re so cute,” a few said. Then they tried to convert them to their side.
We found our seats and when the teams ran onto the field, my oldest jumped from his seat and started cheering wildly. Who knew I had a little college sports fan on my hands? My father would have been proud.
He stayed up the entire game and asked me and others around us about plays, players, scores and mascots — especially mascots, and Ohio State and Wisconsin have two pretty kid-friendly ones.
Ohio State won the game, and my Ohio-born-and-raised children were thrilled. Well, the youngest was asleep by that point, but the 5-year-old had become a college football fan. (And an Ohio State fan. Not sure how I feel about that one. I am originally from Michigan and was raised green.)
Other sites: We were all tired by Sunday morning, but after breakfast we decided to take in some local sites before hitting the road back to Dayton.
The best choice for a more leisurely adventure is White River State Park, a downtown park that features multiple cultural attractions nestled among 250 acres of green space and trails. Indoor locations great for winter visits include the NCAA Hall of Champions, the Indiana State Museum and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art. We explored old western history at the Eiteljorg, getting a few more pictures for good measure before we hit the road to head home.
Another bonus of visiting in December — the museum hosts its Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure train exhibit from late November through mid-January.
Epilogue: Yes, I’m going back this weekend — this time sans kids — to cheer on my graduate alma mater Northwestern as it faces Ohio State for the Big Ten title. Yes, I’m going against the state of Ohio. I might be even going against my kid.
Regardless of the outcome — and my friendships back home — I know I’m going to have a great time. And maybe next year, I’ll bring the kids back for an encore.
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