This Sunday is the Super Bowl. The annual culminating event for the game of football in America. When the Broncos and the Seahawks take the field in New York Sunday night, both teams will be taking a bit of Hardin County with them. Wilson Sporting Goods is a proud supporter of NFL Football, supplying footballs for each team in the NFL each week. Every football you see in any game is made in a small factory in Ada Ohio.
Wilson Sporting Goods Plant Manager Daniel Riegle
The Wilson Football factory is managed by Dan Riegle, who has been with Wilsons for almost 33 years, and has managed the factory for the last 17. Riegle says that he takes pride in the fact that the factory in Ada is the only factory making footballs in the United States.
“Every point scored in the NFL since 1941 has been with a Wilson Football. Obviously we’ve been the football of every Super Bowl. We are also the official football of the Canadian Football League, NFL Europe, there’s a professional league in Italy and one in Japan which use our ball and we’re the official ball of the NCAA. Many of the state high school organizations, like the OHSAA, also use our ball. We make three to four thousand footballs here every day.” said Riegle.
Wilson purchased the Ada factory in 1955, and streamlined the production to produce only footballs.
“Up until that point, they had manufactured boxing gloves, boxing bags, basketballs, a wide variety of sporting goods product. Wilson decided to focus exclusively on footballs here.” said Riegle.
The cowhide when it arrives at the Wilson plant
When Wilson starts out to make a football, it isn’t just thrown together. There are many steps in the production process.
The patterns are then cut out of the cowhide
“It’s not a pig skin. That fallacy came up because originally a pig bladder held the air in the ball. It’s actually cowhide, which is purchased through plants in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and then sent to Chicago to be processed. When it comes in here it looks like the outside of a football with the dimples on it. We cut four panels for every ball. We stamp it when it’s flat, and then the ball is sewn together inside out.” said Riegle.
The football markings are then stamped onto the balls
“At this point, it is turned right-side out where the laces are, and we insert a bladder which holds the air in. We lace it shut and mold it. Every ball is inspected to make sure it is 100% and then packed and shipped out.” said Riegle.
Jane Helzer sews the ball pieces together. Jane has been working at the Wilson factory for 47 years.
Each Wilson football is handcrafted, and while not every football turns out without flaws, Riegle noted that The Wilson factory produces a very low amount of second hand products.
“Before a ball will go to the NFL, every ball has to be cosmetically perfect. It’s weighed [between 14 and 15 oz.] and then measured around the ends and the middle. If it meets those criteria, then it’s good to go to the NFL. The balls they get are perfect. We want that because they’ll be using 54 balls in that Super Bowl for each side. If you watch the game, they’ll be throwing a ball in almost every play, and we want that ball to feel the same for him as the one they just took out.” said Riegle.
The ball is then turned rightside out.
A typical NFL game will feature 24 footballs per team, but the Super Bowl on Sunday will see 54 balls being used by both the Broncos and the Seahawks. The game balls are generally marked and then auctioned off for fundraisers throughout the year.
The crew responsible for lacing up each football
Over the years, Riegle said he’s had the opportunity to meet some interesting people, and likewise many interesting people have come through the factory to see how the process is done.
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of professional players, a lot of the professional coaches, the college coaches, and what I’ve found is even though you may not like somebody because they coach for a certain team or play for a certain team, most of the people you meet are really genuine and nice people. They’re just playing football or coaching so we’re really glad we can provide the professionals of the world the best possible product for them” said Riegle.
Each football is then molded, filled with air, and inspected for quality control purposes.
Riegle noted that the factory is unique to Hardin County, and even the world of sports manufacturing in the United States, a fact that he and his crew take a lot of pride in.
“The reason our competitors took their product overseas is obviously because of labor. Overseas they make 35 or 40 cents an hour, and obviously we pay a fair wage. The reason we’re successful is because we have a dedicated workforce. They come to work and make the best product, and we make footballs every day, which doesn’t happen in all the foreign factories. They’re never going to truly be able to maintain the quality and consistency that we can. It’s the employees that make our product as successful as it is.” said Riegle