10 Miles Away, Worlds Apart

The Zips look to defeat the Golden Flashes in their upcoming rival game, in order to secure the wagon wheel once again.


The Zips football team after winning the rivalry game in 2016. (Photo courtesy of Zips Football)

By Robert Barrett, Jr., Copy Editor

A rivalry 94 years in the making, on Nov. 21, The University of Akron and Kent State University will renew their football rivalry in the 60th meeting between the two schools.

The first contest between Kent and Akron was in 1923, the Zips won 32-0. Since then. there have been a total of 59 games played between the teams, Akron has a 33-24 series lead with 2 ties. The teams played intermittently between 1923 and 1990 but have played annually since 1992 when UA joined the Mid-American Conference.

According to the official website for the Wagon Wheel Challenge, in the spring of 1870, John R. Buchtel, founder of The University of Akron, traveled to the town of Kent in search of land for the purpose of establishing a college. Legend says his wagon was stuck in the mud and the wheel broke off and was buried until 1902 when it was discovered during the construction of a pipeline.

The wheel came into the possession of Dr. Raymond Manchester, Dean of Men at Kent State in 1945. He suggested it be used as a trophy for the winner of the Kent-Akron football game and from that point on the two teams played for the wheel whenever they had a game, with the first Wagon Wheel contest in 1946.

Dr. Manchester with the wheel in 1946. (Akron Beacon Journal file photo)

The 1946 game included pranks by both schools which included a giant burning “K” on Akron’s campus, an Akron pennant on a Kent State’s flagpole, which was greased after the ropes on the pole were cut and finally several Kent State fans flew three airplanes over an Akron pep rally and dumped over 1,000 Daily Kent Stater newspapers on the crowd.

Since then, the score from each game is added every year on a small plaque. Kent State leads the trophy series 23-22 with one tie. Akron and Kent are tied for the series’ longest undefeated streak. Akron did not lose from 1923 to 1941 (11-0-1) and Kent did not lose from 1942 to 1974 (11-0-1).

The football rivalry has expanded into what is now the Wagon Wheel Challenge. The Zips and Flashes meet for 14 different sports contests where a point is awarded to whichever team wins the season series or for some sports such as golf, track and cross country, a point is awarded for whoever finishes higher in the MAC. The Wagon Wheel Challenge started in the 2011-2012 academic year. Kent State won the challenge the first four years while the Zips have won it in 2015 and 2016. The Zips currently hold a 2.5 to 1.5 lead in this year’s challenge and look to expand their lead in the remaining football, basketball, golf, softball, and indoor and outdoor track contests.

Akron has won the football game for three out of the last four years. Throughout the rivalry history, there have been many close games; 27 of the 59 meetings have been decided by 10 points or less, 18 of the meetings have been decided by six points or less.

The 2005 Zips celebrate winning the Wagon Wheel at the Rubber Bowl.
The 2005 Akron Zips celebrate winning the Wagon Wheel at the Rubber Bowl. (Photo courtesy of The University of Akron Department of Athletics)

When asked about the rivalry, redshirt senior A.J. Coney said the Wagon Wheel means a lot to him. “Everyone on the team wants to keep that Wagon Wheel.” Kent State University and The University of Akron are approximately 10 miles apart, “with Kent being so close to us, we have a lot of friends on the other team,” Coney said, talking about bragging rights when it comes to playing against people he knows well. Coney said he is a little extra excited this season since it will be his last game against Kent.

The next installment of the rivalry is Tuesday, Nov. 21 at InfoCision Stadium. Kickoff is set to begin at 7 p.m., for any other additional information visit Zips Athletics at their website.