The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced on June 15, 2020 (Board recap) that the IHSA Boys Basketball State Finals, known to fans throughout the Land of Lincoln as America’s Original March Madness, will return to the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana beginning with the 2021 state tournament. The event was previously held in Champaign-Urbana from 1919 to 1995. The Peoria Civic Center, which has hosted the boys state tournament since 1996, also submitted a bid to continuing hosting.
“We see this as the passing of the torch from Peoria to Champaign-Urbana,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “It is bittersweet because there is incredible passion for high school basketball within these two communities, and both have done so much to elevate the state final experience as hosts. The State Farm Center is one of the best arenas in the country, and we are excited to crown state champions there once again. The timing simply felt right to make a change as the tournament format shifts in 2021.”
The state final hosting bid was a joint proposal from the University of Illinois, the Fighting Illini Athletic Department, State Farm Center, Visit Champaign County, and the Champaign-Urbana communities. The proposal is a three-year bid encompassing the 2021 (March 11-13), 2022 (March 10-12) and 2023 (March 9-11) state tournaments.
“We are thrilled with today’s news that the Illinois high school boys basketball state finals will return home to the campus of the University of Illinois,” said Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman. “We are grateful to the IHSA and its leadership for choosing State Farm Center and Champaign-Urbana to host the state finals. We are humbled by their confidence in our community, which I know will come together to provide the players, families, and fans of the state’s best teams a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My thanks to the many people and organizations locally who collaborated on a compelling bid and proposal. We look forward to showcasing the state’s flagship university, celebrating the many virtues of Champaign-Urbana, and maximizing the full spectrum of amenities in State Farm Center to visitors from all across Illinois. The relationship between the IHSA and the University of Illinois extends back more than 100 years, and we are excited to continue this longstanding, positive partnership many years into the future.”
Among the many highlights, the bid includes interactive fan elements around the arena, city and campus marketing initiatives, a special in-arena area for parents with children, and 13 local hotels locking in three-year prices for fans below rack rate. The IHSA’s Wheelchair Basketball State Tournament and Special Olympics Illinois Unified Basketball Tournament will continue to be held in conjunction with the state tournament in Champaign-Urbana as well.
“We are ecstatic to welcome the IHSA Boys State Basketball Tournament back to its original home at the University of Illinois,” said Jayne DeLuce, President & CEO of Visit Champaign County. “Our community has evolved into a much broader vision incorporating sports, education, technology, and a place of diverse culture that will provide incredible experiences for all involved. We are ready to embrace a new tradition of welcoming teams, families, fans, officials, and media for the experience of a lifetime.”
The State Farm Center is fresh off a $170 million dollar state-of-the-art renovation that was completed in 2016. The building has also been home to IHSA Individual Wrestling State Finals each winter since 1973.
“The Illinois boys basketball state tournament is back where it belongs, right here at State Farm Center,” said Kevin Ullestad, UI Senior Associate Director of Athletics, State Farm Center Director. “Our building will provide the most memorable experience for all the teams and fans who attend this outstanding event every year. After talking with many of the former high school stars who played in the building during the state finals it was clear that playing in the state’s premier basketball facility left a lifetime memory.”
The State Tournament has recently been held over the course of two weekends, but will begin a new format in 2021 that features all four classes being played over the course of three days, culminating with four state championships games on Saturday.
“It’s difficult to express how grateful we are to the city of Peoria, the Civic Center, the surrounding communities, and the army of volunteers who have so vigorously supported the state tournament for a quarter of a century in Peoria,” Anderson. “We understand there may be some initial disappointment, but ultimately, we hope they are as proud as we are for overseeing one of the most decorated eras in IHSA basketball with class, grace, and innovation. We love Peoria and look forward to the numerous IHSA events we will continue to conduct there.”
The IHSA will be contacting current state final season ticket holders in the near future to work with them on seating at the State Farm Center. Individuals interested in becoming new state final season ticket holders can submit their info online at https://fightingillini.com/ihsabb. The University of Illinois ticket office will follow-up with anyone who submits a season ticket inquiry form in the near future to let them know available seating, pricing and more.
Since the first IHSA Boys Basketball State Final Tournament was held at the YMCA in Oak Park in 1908, just six different communities (Bloomington, Decatur, Springfield, Peoria) have hosted the event. Champaign-Urbana has hosted more than any other community, as 77 IHSA seasons have culminated there. That history includes the community’s first hosting opportunity when the state finals were held in the University’s Men’s Gym Annex (now Kenney Gym) in 1919. It remained there until being moved to Huff Hall in 1926, and then found a home at Assembly Hall (now State Farm Center) from 1963 to 1995.
“IHSA basketball has deep roots and a celebrated history on the University of Illinois campus and within the Champaign-Urbana community,” said Anderson. “It’s almost indescribable when you think of all the iconic players and coaches who were a part of the state tournament here. Names like Johnny Orr, Quinn Buckner, Jack Sikma, Isiah Thomas, The Three Amigos (Donnie Boyce, Sherell Ford, Michael Finley), Deon Thomas, Dick Corn, Bruce Douglas, Sonny Cox, Gordie Kerkman, Ronnie Fields, Gene Pingatore, Jay Shidler and Flying Illini like Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson and Marcus Liberty. I could probably name 100 more. We look forward to celebrating that history, and making new memories as America’s Original March Madness returns to Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois.”