The Buckeye State is a study of contrasts. This gamut includes large-city cosmopolitan chic versus pristine Ohio farmlands. Beautiful summers are the pay-off for the grayness of long Midwestern winters.
There is a seemingly unstoppable and potential repeat national champion Buckeye football team which overshadows the ongoing seasonal angst of the cellar-dwelling Cleveland Browns. Honda now dominates as one of the state’s largest employers, while American-made auto manufacturers and suppliers have mostly exited the Buckeye State.
Recently Ohio’s flourishing sports success and accompanying under-publicized football-producing industry was contrasted with the state’s loss of automobile-related jobs, specific to U.S.-made vehicles.
Tiny Ada, Ohio, is football-making mecca. Wilson Sporting Goods opened the town’s plant in 1955 after acquiring Ohio-Kentucky Manufacturing. The Ada plant employs 120 and produces a jaw-dropping 4,000 footballs daily. That equates to 700,000 yearly.
To commemorate the upcoming 50th Super Bowl, the Ada football factory is producing “golden” footballs for presentation by former Super Bowl players and coaches to deliver back to their alma mater high schools. The program, known as the “Super Bowl High School Honor Roll Wilson Golden Football,” will serve as a token of appreciation by the player or coach for the role that school offered in helping them become a professional football team member.
“The Super Bowl High School Honor Roll recognizes the high schools and communities that have contributed to Super Bowl history,” says the Pro Football Hall of Fame website. “This season, the high schools of every head coach or player to have appeared in a Super Bowl will receive a commemorative golden football produced by Wilson.”
Each “golden” football will be displayed at the school or other appropriate venue after the presentation by their hometown NFL hero.
This goodwill and mentoring gesture will hopefully inspire other young sports enthusiasts to pursue their dreams and succeed, as have these NFL members. Ironically, professional football is the only sport that uses only American-made balls. Ada factory employees have worked for Wilson Sporting Goods an average of 23 years which is testimony to football dedication.
Annually the NFL also sponsors a “First Ball” celebration where 2,000 youth form a three-mile human chain from downtown Canton to the NFL Hall of Fame, to initiate the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend. Aug. 6 was the 2015 date of the “First Ball” celebration.
The first “Golden Ball,” of thousands to be manufactured at the Ada factory, was passed by the 2,000 adolescents aligning the route. NFL legend Lynn Swann awaited the “Golden Ball’s” arrival on the steps at the Hall of Fame. This Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl X and former Pittsburgh Steelers star carried this year’s special “Golden First Ball” into the museum for encasement and display to signify this upcoming 50th Super Bowl.
Thank you, Wilson Sporting Goods, for allowing a small Ohio town to play a significant role in keeping the NFL supplied with only American-made footballs. After spending a hot summer at Ohio Northern University’s high school band camp many decades ago, never did I expect to write about then-sleepy Ada. Claiming a population of 5,823 (per 2013 statistics), possibly not much has changed there, except for being a football-making powerhouse.
The opposite end of the small-town Ohio economic spectrum was spotlighted as the lead story on CBS Sunday Morning on Sept. 6. Port Clinton, population 6,033, and just 81 miles north of Ada, was once a thriving automobile-parts manufacturing mecca. During the industry’s boom years, 1,000 citizens were employed at the now-vacant facility. The story, titled “Still Living the American Dream,” focused on the decline of small-town America, and offered Port Clinton as a case study.
Why Port Clinton? Ironically, political scientist and Harvard University political policy professor Robert Putnam is a 1959 Port Clinton High School graduate and was its class valedictorian. Putnam’s latest book is “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” which focuses on the widening gap between this country’s rich and poor, with an increasing decimation of the middle class.
Per a recent New York Times poll, 72 percent of the participants, when surveyed in 2009, believed in “the American Dream,” of the ability to better their financial standing, especially from poverty into the middle class. However, a repeat of that same poll revealed that belief in “the American Dream” has dropped to only 64 percent who now believe that they can succeed financially as much or more in comparison to their parents.
Putnam cites that “the 1950s and 1960s was the ‘Golden Age’ for America’s middle class,” and states “that opportunity for all of us is in trouble.” During the CBS interview, which was conducted back in his hometown, he emphasized that “America is being pulled apart — into the rich and the poor,” with a quickly shrinking middle class.
Also profiled during the story was Port Clinton bankruptcy attorney Adrienne Hines. She and her husband, Scott, a local judge, have witnessed the financial calamity of many area residents due to “a few bad choices” or the loss of a job due to the eroding economic base and fewer larger employers in Port Clinton, beyond summer seasonal work at Put-In-Bay, after the demise of the local auto-parts factory.
The CBS story was sobering in our state’s disparity between two similar-sized towns. Ada continues to thrive while Port Clinton languishes. Putnam’s book would be a “good read” for all Ohioans, especially those who consider themselves of “the middle class.”
Professor Putnam, please enter the race for president. Our country needs your economic wisdom versus the career politicians and one boisterous businessman who are currently the candidates.
Mariann Main is a Delaware, Ohio native and journalism graduate of The Ohio State University. She has a master’s degree in counseling from Georgia State University, and is licensed as a counselor in both Ohio and Georgia. She can be reached at MariannMain@gmail.com.