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Destination DeKalb host committee prepares with IHSA football championships 30 days away

A crowd admires the turf Saturday at the grand opening of the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
A crowd admires the turf Saturday at the grand opening of the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Vicky Vosburgh is doing her part to help DeKalb County make a good impression on fans who will visit DeKalb to attend the state high school football championships at Huskie Stadium in November.

It’s the first time the Illinois High School Association football championship games will be held in the county. Vosburgh, a Genoa resident and office administrator at Northern Illinois University, plans to donate her time working as an usher during the games Nov. 29 and 30. On Saturday, she received training along with more than a dozen other volunteers at the stadium. 

“I think it will only help the community and enhance what people think of the DeKalb County area and Northern Illinois University,” she said. 

Vosburgh isn’t the only person looking forward to how the county will benefit from the football games. Today marks 30 days until 16 teams and their fans will roll into Huskie Stadium, and the IHSA Destination DeKalb committee is entering the final stages of its preparations for the event. Tickets are on sale now at

The committee was formed after the IHSA named NIU the host of the football championship series in June 2012. The championships will be held in DeKalb in odd-numbered years until 2021. 

Besides trying to recruit and train more than 200 volunteers ranging from ushers to parking attendants to work at the two-day event, committee members also are working to meet their fundraising goal.

Jerry Smith, Destination DeKalb host committee member and a DeKalb resident, has been helping to raise the $225,000 needed to host the event. Thus far, the committee has secured about $216,000 from municipalities, businesses and community members, he said. 

Even if some people are unable to throw down $25,000 like KishHealth System or $500 like Sycamore Chamber of Commerce, every little bit helps. Smith said a lot of people like the idea of contributing to something that will benefit the community.

“It’s never hard when you have a good product to sell, in this case the IHSA football championships,” Smith said about finding sponsors. “The task is made much easier.”

The games were held only in Champaign since 1999. Based on how well the games did there, the committee members estimate they will draw more than 30,000 people and contribute about $1 million to the local economy as fans and families shop, stay and eat in the area.

“This is not about 16 good teams coming and playing eight football games,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity to showcase DeKalb County and its economic development. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family.”

One of the main features of the event during the games will be the “spirit zone.” Somewhat similar to the “tent city” at Champaign, the spirit zone will have a main hospitality tent with surrounding tents for all the football teams, said Debbie Armstrong, committee member and executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It’s a place where the community gathers to meet all these teams and walk among them and greet them,” she said.

At the hospitality tent, visitors can get warm and have snacks while meeting members and leaders of the DeKalb County community. Entertainment such as inflatables, an armchair quarterback and TVs will also be available. Visitors can also meet with football teams in other tents.  

Brad Hoey, committee member and NIU communications and marketing director, said he thinks one of the reasons why NIU won the bid for hosting championship games was its past history with hosting high school football at the Huskie Stadium and success with hosting football games elsewhere, such as Soldier Field in Chicago. 

“We played up that fact we’re accustomed to large-scale events at any time of the week and any time of the day,” he said. 

Another factor was the developing Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center, he said. The indoor athletic training center finished construction during the summer and had its public opening Saturday.

The host committee still is seeking volunteers for the event, and Armstrong said more people are talking about helping out now that the event is drawing nearer.

Hoey said he knew winning the bid for hosting the games wouldn’t be the hardest part. 

“If we get this, the heavy lifting is yet to come,” he said. “We’re doing the heavy lifting and we got to carry it off to the finish line now.” 

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