Last Monday, I drove to the NIU Convocation Center to drop off some copies of CDs that were mementos from Mini Abe’s first trip to DeKalb County and Huskie Stadium.
I saw the brightly colored team tents and Spirit Zone IHSA Destination DeKalb tent sitting empty on the west side of Huskie Stadium. The sight of them filled my heart with both sadness and joy. Just 48 hours earlier they were filled with excited fans, cheerleaders, dance teams and school bands, many of them visiting DeKalb County for the first time, just like Mini Abe.
We don’t have the final attendance numbers for our first IHSA state football championships yet. What we do have is a lifelong memory that we shared with the amazing IHSA staff, our sponsors, volunteers, schools from throughout the state and one very happy host committee.
This event has been in the planning stages for more than a year, basically since we were awarded the bid to host the games. It was obvious to our guests that we were all very proud to be hosting the event. Everything we did was to showcase what a wonderful destination DeKalb County is.
The welcoming faces of our volunteers and NIU colleagues made our guests feel right at home. It was both humbling and rewarding to have our hospitality returned in abundance with sincerity and exuberance. I received more hugs from parents and fans I was meeting for the first time than I could have even dreamed. Their heartfelt “thank-yous” for the great hospitality were music to our ears.
Many residents have remarked that they were proud to be involved in such a fantastic countywide event. It was a wonderful reflection of what this area is all about. Our warmth and vibrance was genuine and it showed.
Restaurants were packed with fans. Pizza, pork chop dinners, and box lunches were delivered to fans, bands and teams upon arrival and departure. We served one team at a local restaurant on their way out of town, as well.
We had visitors in hotels, restaurants and grocery stores; cars, vans and busses that needed gasoline; and people who had never been to DeKalb County before. We have no doubt that many of our new friends will return to discover more about our area.
The Illinois Office of Tourism has provided an average dollar amount of $70 spent by sporting event visitors and $109 for each guest spending the night in a hotel. While we are still trying to estimate the economic impact, there really is no way to put a value on having 30,000 visitors descend on DeKalb County in one weekend.
What I do know is that we have a vibrant and growing tourism industry here. Tourism is an important economic engine that supports our local businesses and keeps our area thriving. Events like the IHSA state football championships bring dollars and new opportunities for county businesses. The state estimates that for every dollar invested in tourism, $6 is returned.
Thank you to everyone who invested their dollars, time and talent into making our first IHSA state football championship weekend a winning effort. We hope you’ll all join us again in 2015.
• Debbie Armstrong is executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.