by Marion Simon Garmel
Everyone in Midtown knows the district houses the world’s largest children’s museum. Everyone at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis knows that President & CEO Jeff Patchen thinks really big. And everyone in Indy knows that this is a sports town.
So about 10 years ago, when Patchen asked his staff, “What can we do that will be really big?” the discussion naturally turned to sports. Coinciding with a growing national focus on obesity, the museum’s deliberations quickly tied the public’s interest in sports to greater opportunities for physical activity.
The museum hits it out of the ballpark March 17 with the opening of the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience at The Children’s Museum. The 7.5-acre, $38.5 million expansion of the museum will add 12 outdoor sports experiences and three indoor galleries devoted to family fitness and sports history.
“We have met the challenge to come up with something creative that would also be fun and engaging,” said Kimberly Harms-Robinson, director of media and public relations at the museum. She is a member of the advisory committee that recommended the sports legends who are featured on the Old National Bank Avenue of Champions, which winds throughout the new expansion.
“With the nation’s obesity problem and love of sports, we felt the Sports Legends Experience was the perfect way to show families how they can work together to develop healthy habits that will last them a lifetime,” she added.
If you have driven up Illinois Street past the museum lately, you have probably noticed construction that looks a lot like a giant playground spreading north about three full blocks. There are tennis courts, a football field, a basketball court, a golf course, a racetrack, and much more. The museum couldn’t tackle such a big project alone. Its development team began about three years ago recruiting partners to sponsor the various galleries and to assist with designing and financing the exhibits. First to sign on was Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
“Riley Children’s Health provides the highest level of pediatric care to children who may or may not step inside the hospital walls,” said Matt Cook, president of the organization, when the project was announced. “Physical activity is a crucial component to the well-being of all Hoosier families. It is our hope that through this interactive experience, families will see the impact physical activity can have on heath and well-being, and make it a practice in their daily lives.”
The experience is not just for children but their parents too. Patchen said, “Our goal is to create an immersive outdoor and indoor family health, fitness, and sports experience that will inspire visitors to be active together in a noncompetitive way while creating healthy habits that will stay with entire families for a lifetime.”
The museum partnered with various sports and fitness organizations to design the components. They include:
- The Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever Basketball Experience, with nine mini-courts featuring graduated-height hoops for everyone from toddlers to adults;
- The Indiana Colts Football Experience, with pass and kick challenges and a running course that weaves through full-size soft wobbling dummies;
- The USTA Tennis Experience, with special equipment and shorter courts, where visitors can learn the basics of the game;
- Wiese Field, a reduced-size baseball diamond donated by Elizabeth Bracken Wiese and J. Frederick Wiese Jr., which will give visitors a chance to play America’s favorite pastime on a smaller scale; and
- The Pete and Alice Dye–designed Golf Experience, presented by Henry and Christine Camferdam. Pete Dye, considered the most influential golf course architect of the last five decades, lives with his wife, Alice, near Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel in the summertime. This is the Dye family’s first mini-golf course. It replicates some of their most famous course and hole designs from around the world.
The Fantasy Tree House of Sports Climbing Experience, made possible by The Children’s Museum Guild, enables kids and adults to climb up inside a 60-foot-tall tree and land on ledges overlooking the other experiences, then slide back down.
Also featured are the Subway Soccer and Indy Fuel Hockey experiences; the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pedal Car Racetrack Experience and Church Brothers Collision Repair drag racing strip; the Jane and Steve Marmon Run-Walk Experience, on a track with a shock-absorbent rubber composite surface; and the Cory SerVaas Fitness Path, which follows the entire perimeter of the Sports Legends Experience.
FUN and EDUCATIONAL
Tying it all together is the Avenue of Champions, which features bronze sculptures of legends associated with each sport. The statues were created by sculptor Brian Cooley, who also created the giant Alamosaurs bursting through the exterior of The Children’s Museum at the corner of 30th and Illinois streets.
The Avenue of Champions includes 16 athletes in 12 sculptures representing each of the featured sports. Expect the obvious, such as basketball star Larry Bird and track gold medalist Wilma Rudolph, but expect the unexpected, too. Did you know that the first woman in professional baseball played for the Indianapolis Clowns? Three players from our city’s early Negro Leagues baseball team are featured, including Hank Aaron. Indianapolis’s own Barbara Wynne, the tireless youth tennis promoter and teacher, is the tennis legend.
In addition to the outdoor experience, the expansion includes a Sports Legends Pavilion and Plaza, presented by the Efroymson Family Fund, with three indoor galleries. One features the World of Sports, where you can experience the culture of sports as you play the role of an athlete, announcer, and sportscaster. Another will have rotating exhibits, starting with History of Hoops, where you can see artifacts from a century of basketball history and learn about the game’s significance in Indiana. And the third will exhibit fine art from the National Art Museum of Sport (NAMOS), now a permanent part of The Children’s Museum.
A general admission ticket to the museum includes the Sports Legends Experience. The museum already offers plan-ahead pricing that controls crowds by offering cheaper admission prices on days and at times that are less busy. The Sports Legends outdoor experiences will have extended hours until 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday in spring and fall and until 8 p.m. daily in summer. Plenty of free parking is available in the garage and adjacent surface lots. The museum also is increasing its outdoor lighting and security patrols after museum hours.
This venture is an unusual asset for families. “Currently, most organized sports or fitness programs do not target families as a unit,” said the museum’s Harms-Robinson. “As it is now, most parents serve as a taxi delivery service or as cheerleaders in the stands. The Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience enables parents to stay healthy through sports and fitness alongside their children.”
Museum CEO Patchen added: “Staying active and participating in sports are important lifetime goals. Through this experience we will be helping families stay healthy and achieve these goals together.”
Longtime Midtown resident Marion Simon Garmel is a retired arts journalist and serves as secretary of the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana.