The Wagon Wheel

Joe Harrington

Kent State and Akron are set for their yearly battle for the Wagon Wheel, but what is it?

Brian Marks | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Some football rivalry games are played in mud, while others, such as the Kent State- Akron rivalry, started in the mud. If you’re scratching your head right now, then you probably don’t know the legend of the Wagon Wheel.According to every media football guide that the Kent State archives has from Kent State and Akron, the story goes like this:

In the spring of 1870, John R. Buchtel was looking for the perfect spot for a new school at the insistence of Rev. Andrew Wilson of the Kent Universalist Church. Buchtel was scouting the land Kent State currently sits on for his college.

Then something went wrong: He got stuck in the mud.

With his wagon stuck, the horses broke away leaving bits and pieces scattered all over the place, including the now infamous wheel.

Buchtel would settle on a different location and start Buchtel College, later named the University of Akron.

The wheel was, as the legend says, was discovered in 1902 during the construction of a pipeline along the Western Reserve trail, here in Kent. The whereabouts of the wheel were unknown for the next 43 years, until the Kent State Dean of Men, Raymond Manchester — which Manchester Hall is named after — suggested that the wheel be presented to the winner of the Kent State-Akron football game.

The Wheel was then painted the two schools colors, which happened to both be blue and gold. Current Kent State Director of Athletics Laing Kennedy was quick to point out that the Flashes’ gold is just a little bit different than the Zips, so the Wagon Wheel must be repainted every time it changes addresses.

Today the wagon wheel hangs in the M.A.C. Center and is still freshly painted from last season after being held captive by the Zips the two previous years. But after hearing Kennedy’s favorite story about the wheel, it’s lucky it’s not at the bottom of a landfill right now.

In 2003, Kent State beat Akron 41-38 in the first game of the season. With the Flashes losing late in the fourth quarter, the Wagon Wheel was on the Akron sideline. The Flashes came back to take the lead and eventually win the game. But Akron’s associate athletic director, Mike Waddell, had to inform Associate Athletic Director Pete Mahoney of some bad news.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” Waddell said, “but the wagon wheel has been stolen.”

At the time Kennedy said the missing Wagon Wheel was the least of his worries, but it wasn’t for then Akron Athletic Director Mike Thomas, who thought the wheel was lost forever. Thomas started to search all over Northeast Ohio looking for a new, old wagon wheel, according to Kennedy.

Later that week, Kennedy received a call from Dan Hipsher, former Akron head basketball coach, who had found the wheel abandoned in a street near the Rubber Bowl.

There are some rumors that the Wagon Wheel was never found and the current wheel is a replacement.

But these Kent State players couldn’t care less. For them, the Wagon Wheel is just part of the game — a game with a team just 14 miles down Interstate 76. Senior cornerback Jack Williams, who will play in his fourth Wagon Wheel game, said the actual wheel is just a trophy that needs to remain here in Kent.

For junior linebacker Stevon Moss, the Wagon Wheel represents something more than a winning prize.

“It’s a receipt of all the hard work we had to pay for this summer,” said Moss. “It’s a milestone for this program. Once you got (the Wagon Wheel) in your possession you feel like no one else can stop you.”

Akron has owned the rivalry, winning eight of the last 10 games and has an overall series lead of 27-20-2 against Kent State. Don’t think the Zips are content with that mark, Kent State has more wins in the Wagon Wheel game — 19 — including last season’s 37-15 win at Dix Stadium.

A little rivalry goes along way and although Kennedy said there’s a great mutual respect between Kent State and Akron’s athletic programs, the goal is to always beat the Zips. For the 39th time, they will play for the Wagon Wheel, a tradition that will never again get stuck in the mud.

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].