Wilson Sporting Items manufacturing unit’s function in Tremendous Bowl LVI

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Wikipedia makes it sound like Ada is known for having the shortest name in Ohio. phooey Surely the top two contenders for Ada fame are, in alphabetical order, Ohio Northern University and the Wilson Sporting Goods football factory.

With Super Bowl LVI taking place on Sunday, February 13, this is prime time to check out the factory at 217 Liberty Street, where all NFL footballs are made. Mike Springer, Quality Manager, took the Icon on a tour and provided us with the following update on the facility as well as Super Bowl preparations and promotions.

The facility is jam-packed with workers, machinery and footballs in every stage of production. The process includes cutting cowhide, lining, embossing, sewing, pounding seams, inserting bladders and tracking devices, turning, lacing, inflating, inspecting, and packaging. The Icon met workers at every stage of their careers, from sewer CJ Dyer with 2 years under her belt, to lacer Barbara Gray, who will celebrate 45 years with the company in May. Gray attributes her longevity to working with family and friends. In fact, her mother worked at the factory, which has produced all NFL balls since 1955.

Production involves a fascinating mix of time-tested craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology. NFL footballs have changed very little over the decades. Some sewing is done on heavy duty machines that are no longer manufactured and can require custom part fabrication when repairs are needed. Beginning in 2016 Zebra Technologies motion sensors have been added to NFL game balls; the device provides both visual information and data for broadcasters, teams and fans.

Wilson factory engineers designed a way to add the sensor without affecting the performance of the football. They made sure the balance and “spiral-ability” of sensored and non-sensored balls are the same. Sensors are now in game balls and on player shoulder pads, referees, field goal posts, end zone pylons, yard markers and chain gang.

The Ada facility has some 115 employees crafting footballs and another 15 in management. The factory produces about 650,000 footballs each year. That includes 550 regular season game balls per NFL team.

During the week prior to the Super Bowl, a Wilson Sporting Goods team from Ada is in Los Angeles to show fans how footballs are made at the NFL Experience. The display includes an American flag made of footballs and a reduced scale Wilson water tower. Dyer and Gray are among the employees who will travel to Los Angeles in 2022. Four employees will have the honor of attending the game. For those who are still in Ada, the Monday after the Super Bowl is a company holiday.

So, if and when you tune in to the game on Sunday night (6:30 pm, NBC), keep your eye on the ball–and on the embossed Super Bowl LVI logo–made right here in Ada.