IHSA moves state football back to ISU

The Illinois High School Association board of directors approved a state final hosting contract Wednedsay with Illinois State University and the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to host the IHSA football state finals at ISU's Hancock Stadium from 2023 to 2027.

"We appreciate all of the hosting bids that we received for the IHSA football state finals," said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. "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 inaugural IHSA football state finals in 1974 and hosted over 100 IHSA football state championship games from 1974 to 1998.

"The entire Illinois State University community is ecstatic to have the IHSA Football State Finals returning to Bloomington-Normal," ISU Director of Athletics Kyle Brennan said. "Illinois State University and Illinois State Athletics have long valued their great partnership with the IHSA and take pride in our duties hosting IHSA events at our facilities. It will be a pleasure for us to welcome the student-athletes, their families and spectators to campus and the Bloomington-Normal community each year and provide them with a top-notch experience at Hancock Stadium."

Hancock Stadium underwent a $23 million renovation in 2013 that included a new press box, a transformation of the east side of the stadium, new chair back seating, suites, and more stadium-wide upgrades. ISU broke ground on an indoor football practice facility adjacent to Hancock Stadium in April of 2022 that will be completed when the 2023 IHSA finals are held there on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 24-25, 2023.

"We are delighted to be awarded the IHSA football state finals," says Crystal Howard, President/CEO for the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Our relationship with the IHSA continues to grow, and we appreciate the faith they have in our organization and our community as an ideal host for their events. Thank you to the City of Bloomington and Town of Normal for their support that allows us to pursue these types of events, and to Illinois State University for partnership and enthusiasm to host this event."

Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale each submitted bids to host the state finals from 2023-2027. The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana submitted a bid to host in 2024, 2026 and 2028.

"This decision wasn't made lightly, as Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois have been incredible hosts for us through the years," said Anderson. "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. The IHSA deeply values its relationships with all of these institutions and their communities."

Only four venues have ever hosted the IHSA football finals, which debuted in 1974. Hancock Stadium hosted the first six years of championship games. In 1980, the IHSA expanded from five classes to six classes, at which point the IHSA opted to keep the 1A through 3A games at Hancock Stadium, while moving the Class 5A and Class 6A contests to Dyche Stadium on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston. This arrangement lasted from 1980 to 1984. All six classes returned to Hancock in 1985 and remained there through the 1998 state championships. The University of Illinois has hosted the state finals since 1999, with the exception of odds years from 2013 through 2021, when the games shifted to Northern Illinois University's campus in DeKalb.

Illinois State University currently hosts the IHSA girls basketball and girls volleyball state finals, while the IHSA boys golf, dance, cheerleading, journalism, scholastic bowl, dual team wrestling, and girls individual wrestling state finals are all held in Bloomington-Normal.

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