Sports and Recreation

Sports have become a part of our everyday life. People have liked to play since prehistoric times. In the earliest societies play gradually developed into organized games. Then, as each society became more organized with its own special laws and customs, some of the games became more regulated and developed into sports.

Iowa's Sports Had Roots in Ancient Worlds

Sports were a part of life in many ancient societies. In ancient Egypt men competed in tug-of-war, club throwing, wrestling, knife throwing and swimming. Women took part in acrobatics. Persians held sports festivals for horse races, javelin throws and wrestling competitions. 

In Greece the Olympic Games became the most outstanding of the ancient sports festivals. The games began close to 3,000 years ago with a single foot race about 200 yards long. Only men were allowed to participate in or watch the ancient Olympics. Kept out of the games, Greek women planned their own contests of foot races called the Heraea. 

American Colonists Enjoy Sports

For many centuries sports remained an activity for the wealthy. Lesuire time was often not possible for the poorer, working class. It was still this way when European colonists began to arrive in North America. 

At first the colonists worked to clear land, raise food and build homes. But as the struggle for survival became a thing of the past, sporting events became part of colonial life, especially on holidays. Horse and foot races, as well as shooting matches, were favorites. 

As the European settlers moved westward, sports changed very little. Horse races increased in popularity. Foot races and wrestling remained important. People also played several different kinds of ball games. 

Native Sports

American Indian tribes played organized sports and competed in competitions. The Santee Dakota tribe who once lived in the Iowa region participated in sporting contests that included ball games, archery and racing. A ball game called racket, or lacrosse, was played with a ball and racket. The ball was made of buckskin stuffed with hair. Goals made of two poles were stuck in the ground at each end of a 300-400 yard playing field. 

The Golden Age of Sports

In Iowa as railroads were built connecting towns with one another, spectators could travel to watch sporting events. Railroad companies even offered special rates and schedules to take spectators to and from games. Cities in Iowa became centers for organized professional sports, and strong rivalries developed. 

The 1920s are often called the Golden Age of Sports. By that time the number of working hours had decreased. New technologies relieved farm families of some burdensome work. People had more leisure time to do things just for fun. High schools, colleges and towns built stadiums, gymnasiums and playing fields for athletic events. Even people who couldn't make the events could listen to play-by-play accounts when radio stations began broadcasting games. 

By the 1950s sporting events appeared on television. The higher incomes of many Americans meant they could buy sports equipment for many different activities. Some say that by 1970 the country had entered a new Golden Age of Sports.

In the 21st century many Iowans are sports-minded. Many participate in sports as players. Others are enthusiastic spectators. Schools and colleges offer opportunities for playing a wide variety of sports in Iowa. There is football, basketball, softball, baseball, track and field, cross-country, gymnastics, wrestling, golf, volleyball, swimming, soccer and tennis. Some Iowans take part in these sports just for fun when they aren't working. 

One of the most well-known sporting events in Iowa is the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Riders come from all across the world to take part in this week-long event.

Iowa is a great place for people to hunt and fish, bike, boat and camp. The Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation are two agencies that provide Iowans with fun recreational settings. They maintain parks, camps and trails. They provide museums and nature centers for Iowans to learn more about their state's natural recreational sites.

From the lacrosse games of the early Iowans to the present-day annual bike ride across Iowa, Iowans love their sporting events. Some participate firsthand; others enjoy watching from the sidelines. Sports and recreation are a very important part of life in Iowa. 


  • Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., “The Sporting Life,” The Goldfinch 4, no. 2 (September 1982): 2-4.


From the lacrosse games of the early Iowans to the present-day annual bike ride across Iowa, Iowans love their sporting events.

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