What Does a Wagon Wheel Have to do With Football?


Zips football players celebrate with the Wagon Wheel after the Oct. 20 match against Kent State with a 24-23 win. (Photo courtesy of the Akron Zips)

By Jordyn Etling, Sports Editor

If you’ve been around Kent or Akron, Ohio long enough you may have heard about the rivalry between Kent State University and The University of Akron.

You have also probably heard about how this game is all about the Wagon Wheel. This random trophy that doesn’t appear to have many references to anything has just a muddy background as it might seem.

While the two schools sit 11.6 miles apart, some citizens aren’t entirely sure where the rivalry comes from.

According to kentstatesports.com, there are multiple potential backstories as to the origin of the Wagon Wheel. However, according to UA’s Traditions page, the story is:

“As legend has it, before settling in Akron, UA founder John R. Buchtel was traveling through Kent, Ohio, exploring areas for a new school. While riding through town in his horse-drawn carriage, a wheel broke off and got stuck in the mud.

Discovered during the construction of a pipeline along the Western Reserve Trail in 1902, the wheel became the property of Dr. Raymond Manchester – Dean at Kent State University. Manchester later suggested it be the trophy of the winner of the annual football game.”

Ohio.com states that Kent State’s Raymond E. Manchester, actually just found the ancient antique, made up a fanciful story and let it develop as it may.

Manchester was quoted in the same article as saying, “That buggy wheel is a relic that belongs to KSU, but I’m willing to put it up as a trophy. There’s no danger of losing it.”

The two Universities were on a football hiatus from 1943-1945 due to World War II, making the first Wagon Wheel game occur in 1946. It is speculated that Manchester came up with the Wagon Wheel to make the game more exciting.

The week leading up to the big game in 1946 was full of giant “K’s” on Akron scaffolds, Akron pennant’s on Kent State flagpoles, graffiti and burning effigies. During Akron’s pep rally, KSU fans flew overhead in three airplanes and dumped 1,000 Daily Kent Stater newspapers, according to Ohio.com.

In the 1946 game, 13,197 people witnessed KSU win 13-6. Akron vowed to win in 1947 but went on to lose nine straight seasons in a row.

After the 1954 game where the Zips lost 48-18, Akron’s head coach and athletic director stated that the game was being suspended because Akron couldn’t compete anymore.

This suspension lasted 18 years and was finally renewed in 1972 when Leigh Herington, assistant director of alumni relations at KSU searched campus and found the Wagon Wheel in a basement.

It was not until 1979 that Akron was able to secure a 15-3 win against Kent State.

With the Zips recent win over the Golden Flashes, the wagon wheel has remained at UA for the past four Wagon Wheel rivalry matches.