Disabato: DeKalb will make a fine football state finals host
Pat Disabato email@example.com | (708) 802-8837 June 13, 2012 6:28PM
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“Athletic Directors from over 100 IHSA member schools signed the (NIU) bid, pledging their support for playing the games in DeKalb. (High) Schools from as far away as Galva, Peoria Richwoods and Zion-Benton, places you don’t necessarily associate with DeKalb. It went a long way to showing us how much it meant to the entire region to have the state championships played there.”
Marty Hickman, IHSA executive director
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:21PM
Other than moving the high school football state finals to, say, Miami, amid sunshine and palm trees, the IHSA’s decision to award hosting honors to Northern Illinois University, beginning in 2013, should put a smile on the faces of Southland residents.
There are two major reasons why:
“The seating is smaller, which will make it look more filled up,” said Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar, who led the Griffins to a Class 7A state title in 2005. “There’s a little less travel for people from the Chicagoland area, which will get more fans to attend the games. The more people, the better.”
My sentiments exactly.
Shorten the ride, increase the intimacy. Instead of road-tripping for a fan experience straight out of empty U.S. Cellular Field amid Memorial Stadium’s 60,000, mostly empty seats, you’ve got a short jump to a potentially jumping Huskie Field, capacity 24,000.
So what initiated the search for a host, you ask?
A change in the Big Ten Conference schedule will have the Fighting Illini playing home games on the state finals weekend created a conflict the IHSA had to fix.
That conflict, however, will occur in odd years only. So NIU will play host in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021.
Illinois will remain host in even years. Meaning, if you’re partial to that boring ride down I-57, it’s available every other year.
“Athletic directors from over 100 IHSA member schools signed the (NIU) bid, pledging their support for playing the games in DeKalb,” IHSA execute director Marty Hickman said. “Schools from as far away as Galva, Peoria Richwoods and Zion-Benton, places you don’t necessarily associate with DeKalb. It went a long way to showing us how much it meant to the entire region to have the state championships played there. Ultimately, all three football bids were extremely strong and almost interchangeable.”
NIU wasn’t the only player in the game. Southern Illinois and Illinois State also placed bids, but to no avail.
Initially, I was shocked that Northwestern, which hosted the state finals from 1981 to 1984, didn’t put any skin in the game. Coach Pat Fitzgerald, a Sandburg grad, has led the Wildcats to four consecutive bowl games. The Wildcats roster is dotted with kids from the Chicagoland area.
What better way to showcase NU’s facilities to kids and families throughout the state than hosting the two-day, eight-class state finals Thanksgiving weekend?
If you’ve never been, Northwestern’s Ryan Field is a lovely place, tucked inside Evanston’s historic, sprawling homes and tree-lined streets. Only a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan, it seemed like a perfect candidate to host.
Evanston or DeKalb?
That’s like choosing between Vegas and Milwaukee.
Selfishly, Northwestern hosting would have provided yours truly with the option of dining at Evanston favorite, Buffalo Joe’s, home to the greatest chicken wings known to man, and to wet my whistle at The Keg.
However, one of the IHSA’s bid requirements was that the host have an artificial turf playing surface.
Ryan Field, with natural grass, didn’t fit the criteria.
“Playing eight games in two days and with the potential of bad weather, playing on a natural surface would put teams potentially at a disadvantage,” IHSA assistant executive director Craig Anderson said. “We could also potentially tear up the field with that amount of games over a short period of time.”
It makes total sense.
I’m sure NIU will do a wonderful job hosting. DeKalb is approximately 66 miles from Tinley Park which, depending on the traffic flow, means about an hour drive.
“With something new, there’s always a wait-and-see mentality,” Zvonar said. “But it’s hard for me to believe that with the people involved with the IHSA and Northern Illinois, it’s not going to be a great experience.”