Such is the slogan of IHSA Destination DeKalb, the group of Northern Illinois University staff, community leaders and volunteers who plan, coordinate and host the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football State Championships in DeKalb County.
2015 marks the second time that NIU’s Huskie Stadium will host the state football championships, which will be played over Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 27 and 28.
The numbers in the event slogan are of special significance to the IHSA Destination DeKalb host committee. The inaugural effort between NIU and DeKalb County in hosting the state football championships in 2013 resulted in 30,000 fans visiting Huskie Stadium over the course of two consecutive days of title game matchups. The attendance figures for 2013 represented a significant increase from the previous year’s championship weekend when a reported 26,800 fans attended the 2012 state football championships at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Urbana-Champaign.
“We promised the IHSA that we could attract 30,000 fans to DeKalb, and we delivered on our promise,” said Debbie Armstrong, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We received such positive response and praise from the participants, the fans and from the IHSA the first time around, and we’re looking forward to doing it all again next weekend.”
IHSA Destination DeKalb organizers say the football state championships offer a great opportunity to showcase DeKalb County as a tourist destination.
Armstrong noted that the 2013 state football championships brought in more than $800,000 in revenue for the local economy in the form of direct and indirect spending by visitors on hotels, food, gas and other services and amenities. Some local restaurants reported a 50 percent increase in sales during championship weekend in 2013 from the previous year, and 475 hotel rooms were booked during a period that is traditionally slow for many area merchants.
Along with the revenue, Armstrong said the state championships also generated approximately $200,000 worth of positive publicity for NIU and the local community as result of hosting the event. “The high school state championships are one of the premier sporting events in the state,” Armstrong said. “Hosting events like this only adds to the university’s and community’s cache.”
According to one local hotel operator, this year’s hotel bookings over Thanksgiving weekend are well on their way to exceeding 2013 figures.
“Fans are booking faster this year than they did in 2013, and that’s a good sign,” said Vicky Torres, hotel manager of Red Roof Inn and Suites in DeKalb.
“We’ve had people booking rooms for the IHSA championships since the summer, and we have more available rooms in the community now than we did in 2013,” added Torres, who is also a board member of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I have no doubt the state championships will significantly impact what has already been a very good year for hotels in the area.”
Hosting the state championships also provides the NIU the chance to showcase the campus and the surrounding community to a very important audience: prospective students and their families.
“Having the chance to be a part of a state championship is an experience of a lifetime for almost everyone involved with these schools,” said IHSA Destination DeKalb host committee chair Wendy West-Krauch.
“Our volunteers, our team ambassadors and our sponsors are deeply committed to making sure that every visitor to Huskie Stadium has the best possible experience regardless of the final outcome the games,” added West-Krauch, who describes herself as a “proud NIU alum” and was a team ambassador in 2013.
“Like two years ago, we want people to come away from IHSA Destination DeKalb with nothing but fond memories and good things to say about NIU and DeKalb County. We are building a relationship, and if these young people end up coming to school at NIU, that’s a relationship with the community that will last a lifetime.”