CHAMPAIGN — When Champaign-Urbana bid five years ago to host the state boys’ basketball tournament, IHSA officials had to imagine what the under-construction State Farm Center would look like.
“There was nothing to show them,” said Jayne DeLuce, president of Visit Champaign County. “Just a lot of construction workers.”
After losing out to Peoria, which has hosted the tournament since 1996, C-U submitted another bid this January and is waiting until the winner is announced in late March or early April.
In the meantime, Visit Champaign County has been showing IHSA officials around State Farm Center, with two visits in recent weeks and a reception during the state wrestling tournament Feb. 20-22 at the arena.
IHSA leaders attended the sold-out Illini basketball game last month against Minnesota and visited again last Monday.
“They were able to see a lot of the special effects and the seating and lighting,” DeLuce said. “They got to see a game in action and what it looks like with lots of people.”
They returned Feb. 3 for a “back-of-house” tour.
“We showed them all the hospitality areas, the locker rooms, the media area,” DeLuce said. “We talked about parking, ticketing, everything.”
They discussed a kids zone, as well a tech zone that would highlight emerging technology such as virtual reality, DeLuce said.
“It’s not only just the emerging e-sports, but just an opportunity for fan engagement and entertainment right inside State Farm Center,” DeLuce said.
They ended at the premium seating area called the Traditions Club, where different community leaders welcomed the officials.
They’ll schmooze IHSA officials again next Friday during the state wrestling tournament, which the IHSA announced Monday would stay in Champaign-Urbana for another five years, through 2025.
The extension was approved by the IHSA Board of Directors on Monday.
“IHSA state wrestling and Champaign-Urbana are synonymous with one another,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said.
“High school wrestlers in Illinois dream about wrestling there, so we are excited to extend this longstanding tradition.”
The state meet has been held in Champaign since 1967, the longest active hosting streak for an IHSA sport or activity.
On Feb. 21, Visit Champaign County is hosting a community welcome reception at the State Farm Center’s Legacy Club with IHSA board members, Hall of Fame recipients and other special guests.
“It’s twofold. It’s continuing to build that relationship,” DeLuce said. And it’s “an opportunity to honor their Hall of Fame recipients.”
DeLuce has also been answering questions about what the tournament would look like in Champaign-Urbana, especially since the IHSA is moving all the games from two weekends to one.
“We’re committed to the cause, and the community is very passionate about hosting this tournament,” she said.