Sterling High explores chance to host IHSA state finals in drama

Sterling High School's group interpretation cast participates in a performance of "CODA" in preparation of the 2022 IHSA sectional held at Centennial Auditorium. Sterling Public Schools has been presented with an opportunity to host the state championships in 2024, provided changes can be made to the school calendar.

STERLING — Sterling High School may have an opportunity to host an Illinois High School Association state championship in drama — provided it can make changes to the 2023-24 school calendar.

Superintendent Tad Everett added that tidbit to his informational report to the board of education Wednesday to gauge members’ interest.

The IHSA schedule calls for the championship to be held March 22-23, 2024. The IHSA schedules its state series in the second and third weeks of March to align when most schools have their spring breaks.

Sterling’s existing school calendar has spring break March 11-15. To host the state final, it would require moving spring break to March 18-22, leaving the school empty so the facility and campus could be prepped for its hosting duties. The district also might adjust its academic calendar for midterm tests.

Excellence in the group interpretation portion of the drama finals is a point of pride at Sterling, which has qualified for state 23 straight times. Sterling won a state title in 2004-05 with a performance of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” took fourth in 2014-15 and has two sixth-place finishes.

Everett said that group interpretation coach and theater director Timothy Schlegel came to him with this opportunity, which carried the provision: “We’d take over the high school.”

Sterling has experience hosting drama events: It has been a sectional meet host for seven of the last nine years (the 2018-19 sectional was canceled by the initial COVID-19 lockdown and the 2019-20 competition was not held).

That experience of holding sectionals and the fact Schlegel has been involved in helping at the state championship level “makes the transition easier,” said Susan Knoblauch, assistant executive director for the IHSA.

Timothy Schlegel, drama instructor, introduces Sterling High School's cast for "CODA," which was its entry in the 2022 group interpretation state preliminaries during a preview presentation at Centennial Auditorium.

This difference is scale: The championship would mean accommodating 30 schools and potentially 750 students, in addition to parents, fans of theater and audience members from the community.

“He’s seen it from that level and taken wonderful notes,” she said. “I’m excited if we get to showcase Sterling High School and show it off to other parts of the state.”

The traditional homes for the state drama finals had been Sangamon Auditorium at the University of Illinois-Springfield and the main theater at the Peoria Civic Center, Knoblauch said.

In the face of rising rental costs, the IHSA decided to ask high schools to serve as hosts on a rotating basis in different regions. Oak Lawn High School did it in 2021 and Chatham Glenwood will be the host this year.

Holding the state finals at schools has allowed the IHSA to expand the program. There is the contest play and group interpretation. The IHSA has added a short film and musical theater review categories.

The advisory committee hopes the new additions can help host sites develop more of a festival flavor to the two-day event by inviting local people in the fine arts to offer critiques or conduct seminars with the students, Knoblauch said.

Whether Sterling changes its school calendar depends on a recommendation of its calendar committee, which meets Dec. 12.

Provided the committee gives the go-ahead and the board approves, Sterling could make the proposal.

“We have it on good authority we’d be selected” if it could meet the requirements,” Principal Jason Austin said.

The benefit of hosting a state final is more than prestige. Although drama does not charge admission like IHSA sports events, the school would gain a portion of concessions sales.

Hotels and restaurants in the area would be helped by the additional business, Everett said.

“We think that that’s the best way to go. This is a great thing for our community.”

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.