IHSA moves football finals to Illinois State
The Illinois High School Association announced Wednesday that it selected ISU’s Hancock Stadium to host the state football finals for the next five years.
The Illinois High School Association announced Wednesday that it selected Illinois State’s Hancock Stadium to host the state football finals for the next five years.
The IHSA chose ISU over bids from NIU and SIU. The IHSA wanted a set location for the games for the next five years. Recently, the games have been rotating every year between Memorial Stadium in Champaign and Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
The University of Illinois made a bid to host every other year. Illinois can’t host the games every year because of schedule obligations.
“We appreciate all of the hosting bids that we received for the state finals,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said. “Seeing the passion that these university communities have for hosting the state finals and the amazing stadiums that each campus offers didn’t make for an easy decision. Ultimately, the first-class facilities, amazing support from Illinois State University and the Bloomington-Normal communities, and the central location proved to be the biggest factors in returning to ISU for the next five years.”
Hancock Stadium hosted the games from 1974 through 1998. It received a $23 million renovation in 2013, and ISU recently began construction on a new indoor football practice facility next to the stadium.
“It is a great venue,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “They take an awful lot of pride in what they do there. The improvements in that whole area of Bloomington has been tremendous. It has a lot to offer.”
Attendance has been excellent at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, and that venue’s smaller capacity gave the games a better feel than the much larger Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a great move,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “It’s great for the kids to play at a Big Ten university, but you want that big-game feel, and it is hard to get that at a place that holds 60,000 fans. I think ISU will bring that great feel we had at NIU to the table. You can just about fill that place up.”
Bloomington-Normal’s central location has long been considered a benefit.
“Being more centrally located is ideal,” Piron said. “It’s a vibrant community in Bloomington. I sure liked playing at NIU. It was a lot cozier [than Memorial Stadium]. I think ISU will be cozy, as well.”
Hancock Stadium, Memorial Stadium, Huskie Stadium and Dyche Stadium at Northwestern are the only venues to have hosted the state football finals.
“This decision wasn’t made lightly, as Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois have been incredible hosts for us through the years,” Anderson said. “We have a tremendous relationship with Champaign-Urbana and look forward to returning there in a few short months for state wrestling and boys basketball. Northern Illinois did an exemplary job, stepping up to host beginning in 2013 when the Big Ten schedule necessitated a hosting change in the midst of the contract with the University of Illinois. Southern Illinois University’s facility stacks up with any other in the state, as well, and the area is well-known for having a deeply rooted high school sports fan base.”
Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said that he’d be happy to play the state championship game “in a cow pasture” but that both NIU and Illinois had rolled out the red carpet for his team.
“Those were both tremendous venues,” Zvonar said. “But I had the experience of coaching title games at ISU as a young assistant coach at Lincoln-Way, and it was tremendous, as well. I think ISU checks off all the boxes.”