See you at Tent City, Westville fans
CHAMPAIGN – When the Westville Tigers and their supporters arrive in Champaign on Friday for their Class 2A state championship football game against Dakota, their tent will be warm and ready.
Tent City, an entrenched and highly popular feature of the state high school football tournament, will be back again this weekend.
Tent City is a place for supporters of the high school football teams, and players them-selves, to gather before and after games to tailgate. It's located southwest of Memorial Stadium, at the southwest corner of First Street and Kirby Avenue.
Three years ago, a budget crunch at the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau almost led to the cancellation of Tent City, but several community groups and the University of Illinois pitched in funding to allow the event to continue.
Lucas Thurman, marketing director at the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the director of the Champaign County Sports Commission, said Tent City is viewed as an important amenity at the Illinois High School Association football tournament, which takes place Friday and Saturday.
The bureau will spend $15,000 toward the cost of Tent City this year and also contributes another $10,000 toward the football tournament's costs, he said.
The UI Division of Intercollegiate Athletics contributes another $2,000 toward Tent City and roughly $40,000 toward the football tournament itself, according to UI Associate Athletic Director Dana Brenner.
"The objective is, we're trying to keep them here and keep them happy and provide a great venue," Brenner said of the tournament. "We're spending some dollars to keep them here."
Thurman said Tent City will be similar in layout this year to years past.
"We will have a large entertainment tent as well as eight individual team tents for pre- and postgame parties," he said. "Each team gets its own tent for the entire day."
Friday will see Class 1A through 4A teams compete in the tournament, including those from Tuscola (1A) and Westville (2A). On Saturday, larger high schools – Class 5A through 8A – will compete.
Last year, for the first time, a tent-decorating contest was implemented, with the supporters of the two finalist teams in each class competing. The winners got a small plaque. That contest will continue again this year, Thurman said.
"That went really well," he said. "The teams and booster clubs loved it. It's a lot of fun and gives the fans and cheerleaders and boosters a chance to get involved."
The heated tents will go up Wednesday and be open to the teams at 7:30 a.m. Friday.
Postgame parties have been known to last as long as midnight in some cases, Thurman said.
The popularity of the football tournament continues to grow, with last year's attendance exceeding 40,000 people and setting a record, he said.
"That doesn't include teams, bands and cheerleaders," Thurman said. "That's strictly ticketholders."