For the third time Friday, DeKalb and Northern Illinois University will play host to the Illinois High School Association’s state football championships.
The IHSA Class 1A state championship game begins at 10 a.m. Friday, with four games Friday and four more Saturday. All of them will be televised on NBC Sports Chicago, the channel they used to call Comcast SportsNet.
In the previous two years, in 2013 and 2015, we have seen some exciting games and welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to DeKalb and the NIU campus. Our hope is that those who visit this community not only will spend some time and money here, but also come to realize all that DeKalb has to offer when thinking about where they or their children would like to attend college.
NIU and DeKalb are ideal locations for this event. Most of the teams participating in the finals are from northern Illinois, and so are their fans. It’s a shorter drive to NIU for most of them than the even-year destination in Champaign. In 2015, despite some less-than-perfect weather, more than 22,000 tickets were sold for the eight state final games.
The value of DeKalb’s location was not lost on early organizers such as Dan Jones, who, while he was athletic director at DeKalb High School in 2012, got 114 area athletic directors to sign a petition in favor of making NIU the odd-year site for the finals.
That petition drive, which added strength to the successful bid put together by a steering committee, helped spawn a biannual tradition here in DeKalb. It’s one where organizers mobilize volunteers to help stage the event, and welcome out-of-town visitors to Huskie Stadium to watch some of the best football teams, coaches and players in Illinois.
The IHSA Destination DeKalb committee, led by Wendy West of Siepert West Financial Consulting, with help from Brad Hoey of NIU and the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, has provided valuable leadership and publicity campaigns for the event.
There are few other cities in Illinois that organize such a large-scale volunteer effort for the sake of so many out-of-town visitors.
Of course, it’s not done without self-interest – the local economy benefits from the influx of visitors. In 2015, there were more than 450 hotel rooms booked in DeKalb and Sycamore. Local restaurants saw a 35 percent to 50 percent increase in sales, and some retailers and businesses in downtown DeKalb reported record business, according to the visitors bureau.
But it is about more than that. Since 2013, this two-day, every-other-year event has been a chance for us to show our fellow Illinoisans the best side of our community, from the unique assets provided by a Division I public research university to the friendly and helpful people who help the show to go on.
To all who will volunteer this year or who have in the past, thanks for your efforts. To those who will simply attend this weekend’s games, thanks for taking an interest and giving the athletes an audience for whom they can perform.
To those here for football games Friday, perhaps for the first time, welcome to DeKalb.
Let the games begin!