High school basketball: Boys state finals head to Champaign; girls tournaments stay in Normal

Lincoln-Way West's Jon Marotta shoots against Peoria Manual on March 18, 2016, during the IHSA Class 3A state semifinals in Peoria. The boys state tournament will return to Champaign next season after being played there from 1919 through 1995.
Lincoln-Way West's Jon Marotta shoots against Peoria Manual on March 18, 2016, during the IHSA Class 3A state semifinals in Peoria. The boys state tournament will return to Champaign next season after being played there from 1919 through 1995.

The IHSA looked at the University of Illinois’ renovated State Farm Center as the ideal place for its boys basketball state tournament and its new format next season.

After 25 years of playing at the Peoria Civic Center’s Carver Arena, the IHSA announced Monday that the boys state tournaments will return to Champaign. The $170 million in renovations completed in 2016, along with a renewed vigor from the Champaign-Urbana group, proved vital in prying the tournaments away from Peoria.

The boys state tournaments were played in Champaign from 1919 through 1995.

The IHSA also announced that the girls basketball state tournaments will remain in Normal at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena, which has been the host site since 1992. Champaign, which hosted the girls state tournaments from 1978 through 1991, also made a bid for the girls tournaments.

IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said the decision to leave Peoria was difficult, but the board’s vote for Champaign was a consensus. The state tournament contracts for both Champaign (boys) and Normal (girls) will run for the next three years.

“If you haven’t visited, the (State Farm Center) venue is absolutely top-notch,” Anderson said. “The investment the university made in the facility is really a crowning jewel for this state. We’re so appreciative for the opportunity to bring the boys basketball tournament to Champaign-Urbana and look forward to the partnerships growing.

“There’s no sense of Peoria doing anything wrong. They took our tournament and took it to a higher level.”

Peoria won the bid in spring 1995 with an enthusiastic push to make the tournaments the best it could. The Champaign area drew considerable criticism for a lack of hospitality, particularly with hotels raising prices for rooms to what many fans felt were unreasonable levels.

The Champaign group has 13 hotels that have locked in their room rates for the next three state tournament weekends. Next year will be the first that the IHSA has all four classes play their championship games Saturday. The tournaments will run Thursday through Saturday for both boys and girls.

“When we left 25 years ago, there were concerns about the hotel pricing,” Anderson said. “They have provided evidence that that will not be the case and locked in a significant number of hotels at three-year pricing we think is reasonable

“Their bid was powerful. Their team was impressive. They went above and beyond doing all the things we would expect. They put forth a very good bid. Champaign rose to the top.”

Champaign also hosts the boys wrestling individual state tournament and the football state championships in alternating years.

“The people are different from that time (1995), and the community is different,” said Jayne DeLuce, president and CEO of Visit Champaign County. “There is much synergy between the community and the campus. When it was here before, I think there was a little bit of complacency where we never thought that the tournament would leave. The hospitality industry is well on-board with us. We’ve worked closely with the hotels, the restaurants, the retails and everybody else who will welcome everyone with open arms.”

DeLuce said that through an impact-calculating program they anticipate a $4 million effect on the Champaign-Urbana community.

There have been six host sites for the boys tournaments, which started in 1908 at the Oak Park YMCA. Bloomington, Decatur, Peoria, Springfield and Champaign have been the other hosts.

There have been only two host sites for the girls tournaments, Normal and Champaign. The first girls tournament was played in 1977 at ISU’s Horton Fieldhouse. They were moved to Champaign for the next 14 state tournaments and were played in Illinois’ Assembly Hall before moving to Redbird Arena.

“Our girls tournament found continued success, the venue is rich in history for the girls,” Anderson said. “They found their niche in Redbird Arena.”

ISU athletic director Larry Lyons said his school is thrilled to remain the home to the girls tournaments.

“Illinois State University and Illinois State athletics have long valued their great partnership with the IHSA, and we take great pride in hosting these championships,” Lyons said. “It’s an honor for us to provide them with a first-class championship experience at Redbird Arena.”

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