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Youth focus: Indianapolis

Children’s Museum, courtesy Indianapolis CVA

From Hoosiers to Indy cars, a century-long athletic heritage makes Indianapolis an attractive destination for young sports fans.

The capital of Indiana, this Midwest metropolis enjoys an impressive array of artistic, historical and cultural traditions. But few rival the renown of the city’s sports heritage. Indianapolis Motor Speedway plays host to two of auto racing’s biggest events each year, and the NCAA makes its headquarters in the city. The recently constructed Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, is a sparkling monument to the town’s love of sports.

For youth and student groups traveling in Indiana, these sports attractions make a great introduction to some of the city’s other gems; while your young people enjoy the adrenaline rush of a football stadium or speedway, they can also expand their minds at some of Indianapolis’ museums and historic sites.

[ Children’s Museum of Indianapolis ]
For years, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has been a staple of student itineraries. It first opened in 1925; today, the 473,000-square-foot museum has more than 120,000 artifacts and welcomes more than 100,000 million visitors each year.

The museum specializes in large-scale exhibitions that make a big impact on small visitors. The main atrium features “Fireworks of Glass,” a 43-foot-high tower of blown glass created by artist Dale Chihuly. Recently, the museum added Dinosphere, an immersive addition with life-size dinosaur re-creations and archaeological dig areas for children.

Other current exhibits span the breadth of the sciences, from Egyptian antiquities to carousel physics and biotechnology for kids.

[ Lucas Oil Stadium ]
Football fans have grown accustomed to watching Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts’ dazzling offense in recent years, and since 2008, many of those games have taken place at Lucas Oil Stadium. This massive field house looms large over the Indianapolis skyline and can hold up to 70,000 spectators on game day.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, groups can get behind-the-scenes access on tours of the stadium. During the hourlong tour, guests take a walk out onto the playing field, peek inside an NFL locker room and see the press box and one of the stadium’s luxury suites.

[ Conner Prairie ]

Located just outside of Indianapolis proper, Conner Prairie gives visitors a look at what life was like in an Indiana settlement 200 years ago. Billed as an “interactive history park,” the organization features historic buildings and programming on 200 acres of land near the White River.

At the heart of Conner Prairie is the re-created settlement, which has log cabins, schoolhouses, churches and other structures from the 19th century. Visitors can help re-enactors with household chores, participate in a craft with the town carpenter or watch historic blacksmithing demonstrations at the forge.

Conner Prairie puts on a variety of special events and interpretive programs that help make history come alive for guests. Highlights include “1853 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana,” an interactive experience that re-creates John Hunt Morgan’s raid on the state, and a host of historic holiday celebrations.

[ Indianapolis Motor Speedway ]
First built in 1909 as an auto manufacturer’s proving grounds, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway soon became the chief sporting hallmark of that city. Its signature race, the Indianapolis 500, celebrated its 100th anniversary this summer; the track also hosts NASCAR’s annual Brickyard 400.

When racing isn’t in session (or even when it is), groups can get a great overview of the speedway at the on-site Hall of Fame Museum. Located on the infield, this museum displays some of the great Indy and NASCAR vehicles that have raced there, and introduces visitors to some of the great racers who have competed in Indianapolis.

The museum also operates track tours on days when the track is not being used, taking visitors on a bus ride around the track and across the famous yard of bricks at the finish line.

[ NCAA Hall of Champions ]
The nation’s largest governing body for collegiate sports makes its home in Indianapolis and features a large museum for visitors called the NCAA Hall of Champions.

Groups that visit the Hall of Champions get a 90-minute tour that includes exhibits and interactive components surrounding the association’s 23 sanctioned sports. Displays and informational kiosks give visitors an overview of various sports and their important figures; a number of hands-on activities, such as downhill skiing and football-throwing simulators, let guests get in on the activity themselves.

One of the most popular elements of the museum is a 1930s-style gymnasium where guests can shoot free throws or play pickup basketball.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.