DeKalb tourism bureau ‘disappointed’ after NIU loses host bid for state IHSA football conference

Here’s what the IHSA’s announcement means for tourism in DeKalb County

Wheaton Norths Devon Neal goes for the block against St. Rita in the Class 7A state championship at NIU Huskie Stadium. Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021 in Dekalb.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium lost its bid to host the football state championships, and officials with DeKalb County’s tourism bureau said the loss is disappointing for the community.

NIU has hosted the eight title games five times.

The Wednesday announcement by the Illinois High School Association that Illinois State University will be the singular host through 2027 hasn’t stopped NIU from considering it in the future.

“[We’re] disappointed that we’re not having it back,” said Brad Hoey, interim sales and marketing director for the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ll certainly look at trying to get it back in another five years.”

In 2021, when DeKalb County and NIU hosted the state football championships for the fifth time, Hoey wrote the event traditionally attracts more than 20,000 fans and contributes $800,000 to $1 million to the local economy.

ISU, NIU and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale all submitted bids to host the championships from 2023-27, while the University of Illinois submitted a bid to host in 2024, 2026 and 2028.

The state finals have alternated between U of I’s Memorial Stadium in Champaign and NIU’s Huskie Stadium in DeKalb since 2013, but with those contracts set to expire after 2022, the IHSA expressed its desire to keep the championships in the same location annually.

The DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau intends to look at submitting a 2028 bid for the event, at which point another venue may be selected, Hoey said.

Rochester captains Clay Bruno, (left) Nathan Hoerner and Camden Ramsey (right) hoist the trophy after their Class 5A state football championship victory over St. Rita Saturday in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University.

He said the bureau doesn’t necessarily view the departure from hosting as a loss for the county. Area food and hospitality venues around that weekend may feel it the absence, however.

The championship games previously occurred at Huskie Stadium every other year around the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Hoey said it was very good for the local economy, especially for restaurants, bars and hotels.

“It provided a little bit of a boost for the economy for what was traditionally a slow economic weekend here in the area,” he said. “It will impact that particular weekend.”

There are a number of events that take place in DeKalb County throughout the year, including the Illinois Elementary School Association’s wrestling championships and the badminton championships.

Hoey said the hope is that these events will help shore up any loss that may be realized.

“We’re going to work closely with the DeKalb wrestling club to try to retain that here in DeKalb County,” Hoey said. “We also have the state IHSA badminton championships coming in here in the spring, May 12 and 13. That’ll be at DeKalb High School, so that’s exciting.”

Pizza Pros General Manager Aaron Hardt said he imagines the restaurant will feel the impact since area families and teams driving in to play championship games won’t frequent DeKalb eateries.

“Over the course of a weekend, it would impact us around $5,000 less in sales,” Hardt said. “That’s like losing an entire day of business.”

Hardt said that with inflation and soaring food costs, they’re relying on every penny that is generated to make ends meet.

East St. Louis players DeMonta Witherspoon, (left) Antonio Johnson and Darran Perkins (right) celebrate after their Class 6A state football championship win over Prairie Ridge Saturday in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University.

Hoey said the bureau will continue to be aggressive in its efforts to collaborate with other facilities and entities in the county to land events meant to spur tourism dollars and tout DeKalb County’s accolades.

“Obviously, many times we’re in competition with other communities within the state, but oftentimes we’re in competition with other communities throughout the midwest or even throughout the country,” he said. “We have to have partners and we have great partners within the county in order to be competitive. Oftentimes we are very competitive and we’re able to bring some of these events and sporting events into DeKalb County.”

Hoey acknowledged that it was a team effort that made hosting the football state championship game possible and said it didn’t go unnoticed by the IHSA.

“We had great volunteers,” Hoey said. “NIU went above and beyond in their efforts to make sure that bands that traveled to DeKalb County and to NIU had a great experience.”

Rochester head coach Derek Leonard gets emotional as he talks to his players after their Class 5A state football championship victory over St. Rita Saturday in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University.

Hoey gave kudos to the new host site for landing the football state championship game.

“I would like to congratulate the Normal-Bloomington community and ISU on getting the bid,” Hoey said. “It’s great for whatever community gets it. We’ve really enjoyed having it here in DeKalb County and at NIU for five out of the 10 years.”