By RYAN TRARES
For The Republic
To take advantage of the greatest offerings of the Indiana sports scene, local fans have always had to be spectators instead of participants.
Most people won’t be able to experience racing around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, driving under the shadow of the Pagoda and crossing the Yard of Bricks. They won’t be able to play some of the most famous holes by golf course designers Pete and Alice Dye, including the Island Green at TPC Sawgrass and No. 17 and No. 5 on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
No one in the world could have scored eight points in nine seconds, like Pacers legend Reggie Miller did against the Knicks in 1995.
People haven’t been able to truly immerse themselves in these and other sports experiences. Until now, that is.
Hoosiers are crazy about their sports, and officials at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis have created a gametime paradise on its campus to cater to all types of fans. The Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience devotes more than 7 acres entirely to fitness, exercise and activity.
Visitors can take part in 12 themed sports areas, shooting hoops on Pacers-themed rims, kicking footballs on a Colts playing field and scoring goals on a replica of the Indy Fuel’s hockey rink.
Learn about the history of Indiana sports at all levels, then take part in interactive games demonstrating and encouraging fitness.
The idea behind the Sports Legends Experience is to create an outdoor experience encouraging people to be more active, but in a fun way, said Jeffery Patchen, president and CEO of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
“We believe the immersive, hands-on experience will serve as a national model for the importance of an active lifestyle for your health,” he said. “There’s an issue nationwide — not just with children but also adults — with obesity. We wanted to do something to help them learn about health and fitness and do it in a fun way.”
The Sports Legends Experience unfolds like a sports lover’s dream.
Replica versions of basketball courts, football fields, baseball diamonds and drag racing strips are set up in different areas of the experience. Pedal cars set up on a small oval track let you experience the Brickyard on a smaller scale.
World-renowned golf course designer Dye and his wife, Alice, gave their expertise to create a unique putting course that featured replicas of some of his most famous holes from around the world.
“Pete and Alice Dye, for example, have had a lifelong love affair with golf and their children grew up on golf courses. They wanted children and families to enjoy that togetherness and to create a legacy course that could help inspire that love of the game,” Patchen said.
A running track and fitness equipment stations weave around the entire campus. Signs at each station will give tips on how to play, while facilitators will be available to teach people how to properly use all of the equipment and games.
Each area is designed to accommodate visitors of all ages, sizes and ability levels. Adaptations to the equipment make it accessible for anyone to use.
“Everything is adjusted. We want everyone to feel success. It’s not a competition; you don’t have to be an Olympian or a pro sports athlete,” said Kimberly Harms Robinson, spokesperson for the museum. “It’s to get families working together to develop lifelong habits that are healthier.”
The concept of a sports-centric new addition to the museum has been percolating for more than a decade. In 2009, museum leaders worked with Mark Rosentraub, an economic impact expert at the University of Michigan and one of the nation’s foremost endowed chairs in sports management.
Rosentraub studied ways that the museum could engage entire families — children, parents and grandparents — in physical activity. Leveraging Indiana’s reputation for sports excellence and its collection of sports legends at all levels, the plan was to fill a void for health and fitness attractions that bonded families together through activity, Patchen said.
“For the last 10 years, the museum has been looking for a way to promote health and fitness; but, we didn’t want to force-feed it to visiting families through typical exercise workouts,” he said. “We wanted to create something that was fun and engaging that would inspire children and their grown-ups to lead healthier lives, and to enjoy this activity together. Through the lens of sports and sports legends, we have created activities that will get families up and moving together.”
To pull their vision for the sports experience together, museum officials worked with experts and sports legends from throughout the region. They teamed up with Riley Children’s Hospital and Indiana University Health to create an attraction that helped improve strength, skills and endurance in all kinds of sports.
Professional entities, such as the Pacers, Fever, Colts and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, provided financial support and ideas on how to design aspects of the experience in their respective sports.
“They were very generous with their advice and financial support. All agreed that regular practice and hard work can help each of us build confidence and learn new skills so we can achieve our goals — athletic and otherwise,” Patchen said. “We don’t have to become an Olympian or professional athlete to achieve success and live a healthier life.”
The design of the experience also features artistic accents to pay visual homage to the state’s sports heritage.
An Avenue of Champions highlights sculptures of some of Indiana’s most famous sports icons, including Larry Bird, A.J. Foyt, Oscar Robertson and Wilma Rudolph.
At the center of it all is the Tree of Sports. The 25-feet-high tree sculpture is carved with symbols of all kinds of different sports. People can walk or ride an elevator up on the inside to get an elevated view of the Sports Legends Experience layout, then jet down on one of three different slides.
While the outdoor campus catches attention immediately, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has added indoor sports attractions to make for a multipurpose experience as well. The World of Sport will feature exhibits focused on Indiana’s professional sports teams, while a training facility allows people to experience how NCAA athletes prepare for their sports. At the Motorsports Garage, people can test their speed as part of an Indy Car pit crew and learn about the first black racer to run in the Indianapolis 500.
A History of Hoops section gives background and perspective to the role that basketball has played in the state. People can see artifacts from the most famous high school teams from Indiana’s past, as well as displays related to its major collegiate basketball teams.
People can watch as Tamika Catchings demonstrates how to do ladder drills to improve quickness and agility on the basketball court. Then people can relive Miller’s late-game heroics against the Knicks, trying to beat the clock like he did.
“You can replicate Reggie’s shots. You can see the spots on the floor where he was, and try to do it in the time he did,” Harms Robinson said.
The Children’s Museum also becomes the home for the National Art Museum of Sport, a collection of some of the greatest sports-related artifacts in the country. Works by world-renowned artists such as Winslow Homer, Frank Benson and LeRoy Neiman will be displayed along with bronze sculpture of athletic endeavors and photographs of famous moments.
“This is the first time you can see all of these pieces in one place,” Harms Robinson said. “There are 1,000 pieces of art in the museum, and we’ll have about 100 that we’ll rotate out.”
The end results is an immersive opportunity to connect with sports on a variety of different ways. Even if you don’t have much experience playing sports, you can learn about exercises to keep yourself fit, find out more about the state’s athletic heritage and use art to appreciate the strength, agility and beauty of modern sport.
“Sports are significant in Indiana. Indianapolis is well known as the amateur sports capital of the world — not just football and basketball, but many sports,” Patchen said. “We wanted to incorporate as many sports as possible and make this experience as diverse and multifaceted as possible. This is a starting point to explore multiple sports.”
Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience
What: An indoor and outdoor attraction designed to let people of all ages and abilities explore different sports, exercise and fitness opportunities.
Where: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, 3000 N. Meridian St.
Admission: Tickets to the Sports Legends Experience are included with museum admission. Prices vary depending on the day, varying from $14 to $37. People can lock in plan-ahead pricing by buying tickets online.
Other ticket options include: First Thursday Nights, 4 to 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, admission is $5 per person to for access to the museum or Sports Legends Experience. The cost is $7 per person to access both.
Here is a breakdown of the different experiences, located outside the museum and indoors, available at the new attraction:
Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever Basketball Experience: All ages will be able to shoot hoops on outdoor courts featuring 16 baskets for all sizes and abilities. Special activities let you beat the shot clock and work on passing skills.
Pete and Alice Dye Golf Experience: Play an 18-hole putting course designed by golf legends Pete and Alice Dye, replicating some of their most famous course and hole designs from around Indiana and the world.
Indianapolis Colts Football Experience: Practice offensive and defensive moves around Colts tackling dummies, as well as taking part in passing and kicking challenges.
Seymour and Rheta Holt Tennis Center: Using specialized equipment on short courts, families can learn the basics of tennis and practice their game.
Wiese Field: Step up to the plate and take a few cuts using special equipment in this miniature baseball stadium.
Subway Soccer Experience: Take aim at the goal and practice dribbling and passing on the turfed soccer field.
Indy Fuel Hockey Experience: Practice puck-handling and shooting on a street-hockey surface, designed to look like the home of the Indy Fuel minor league hockey team.
Fantasy Tree House of Sports: A sculpted, 60-feet-tall tree house of sports will let children and families climb through the interior of the tree to platforms looking out over the campus. Three different slides provide a speedy way down.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pedal Car Racetrack Experience: Guests can drive human-powered IndyCars, stock cars and muscle cars along a slotted track, crossing a recreation of the famed Yard of Bricks.
Sports Legends Avenue of Champions: People can pose for photos alongside life-size sculptures of sports legends with Indiana ties, including Tamika Catchings, Slick Leonard and Reggie Wayne.
Efroymson Pavilion Plaza: This year-round indoor venue will allow visitors to learn more about players, owners, game history and sports milestones through changer interactive exhibits. A permanent gallery will also showcase highlights from the National Art Museum of Sport.