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IHSA board issues joint resolution on Black Lives Matter, decides four state final venues

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BLOOMINGTON -- The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors met for its regularly scheduled board meeting via a video conference call on Monday, June 15, 2020, where the Board issued a joint resolution:

“Black Lives Matter. The IHSA Board of Directors wholeheartedly believes in this statement, and vows to work together to better educate ourselves, our students, and the IHSA membership on how we can support those impacted by racism and injustice. We will continue to have dialogue on ways we can elevate this message among IHSA students, coaches and officials, while further incorporating Black Lives Matter and equity for all students into the IHSA’s mission and belief statements.”

The Board went on to approve State Final hosting contracts for the IHSA Boys and Girls Basketball State Finals, as well as the Chess and Scholastic Bowl state tournaments.

“We want the State Final experience to feel like the Super Bowl of every IHSA sport and activity,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “We feel very very lucky that these amazing communities are interested in supporting our high schools, while putting forth the time and resources necessary to make sure the students, coaches, fans and officials enjoy a first-class experience. We are truly appreciative of everyone that submitted a bid to host and look forward to working with all of them moving forward.”

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced on June 15, 2020 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 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.”

The IHSA Girls Basketball state finals will remain at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University (ISU) in Bloomington-Normal for the next three seasons.

“We are excited to continue to serve as the host for the IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships,” said ISU Director of Athletics Larry Lyons said. “Illinois State University and Illinois State Athletics have long valued their great partnership with the IHSA, and we take great pride in hosting this Championship. It’s an honor for us welcome the athletes, their families and spectators to campus and the Bloomington/Normal community each year and provide them with a first-class championship experience at Redbird Arena.”

The state final bid, which encompasses three seasons at the newly refurbished arena, was a joint proposal by Illinois State University, Redbird Athletics, the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (BNACVB), and the Bloomington-Normal communities.

“We’re honored to be awarded the IHSA Girls Basketball State Finals,” said Crystal Howard, President/CEO for the BNACVB. “We are thankful for the relationship we have with the IHSA, and are appreciative of the faith they have in our organization and our community as an ideal host for their events.” 

Redbird Arena has served as the host of the IHSA Girls Basketball State Finals since 1992, and has also hosted the IHSA Girls Volleyball State Finals since 1990.

Director of Sports and Market Development for the BNACVB, Matt Hawkins, adds, “Bloomington-Normal is very experienced in hosting IHSA state finals events, and we recognize the prestige in hosting the Girls Basketball State Finals through a competitive bid process. You will not find a better venue in the state of Illinois to host this tournament, and we look forward to welcoming the teams and their fans to our community."

The IHSA Scholastic Bowl Tournament will get a change of scenery in 2021, as the tourney will move to Heartland Community College in Normal for at least three years. Heartland is the current host of the IHSA Journalism State Finals, a role it began in 2019. Scholastic Bowl was previously held at the Peoria Civic Center since 1997.

The Peoria Civic Center has been the home of the IHSA Chess State Finals since 2001, and will continue to house what is believed to be the largest team chess tournament in the world through 2023 following the three-year extension.

1. The Board approved a recommendation on Stage 2 Return To Play Guidelines developed by the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC). The Stage 2 Guidelines build on the initial conditioning and acclimatization guidelines developed by the IHSA SMAC that were approved by the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) earlier this month. The Stage 2 Guidelines aim to align with Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan that could go into effect statewide in late June and early July. The Stage 2 Guidelines have been sent to IDPH for review and feedback, and will be shared in a draft form with member schools for planning purposes on June 16.

2. The Board voted to allow 20 Contact Days and eliminate the no contact “dead period” that was scheduled from August 3-9 in 2020. Contact days have not yet been reinstated for IHSA member schools, but could be as a part of the Stage 2 Return To Play Guidelines (see #1 above) that could potentially go into effect statewide in late June and early July.

3. The Board approved a recommendation to begin an Individual Girls Wrestling State Series beginning in the 2021-22 school year.
IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson:
“I commend the Board on their vision to further the IHSA mission by continuing to seek out more participation opportunities for high school students in Illinois. Participation in high school girls wrestling has grown significantly over the past few years, and we expect this announcement will only help increase that momentum here in Illinois. Our staff will use the lead time in the 2020-21 school year to best decide how the IHSA Girls Wrestling State Series fits within the current wrestling state series structure, including the dates and locations of each level of the tournament.”

2. The Board reviewed the IHSA sports and activities that currently fall below the participation threshold per the terms of IHSA Policy 14 and voted to continuing to conduct them in 2020-21.

3. The Board approved a recommendation to waive IHSA By-laws 3.022 and 4.022, as the semester eligibility requirements at many schools have been complicated as a result of different e-learning and grading structures due to CVOID-19.

1. The Board approved the consent items, from the Advisory Committees in the following sports & activities: Boys & Girls Basketball, Boys & Girls Bowling, Competitive Cheerleading, Competitive Dance, Boys & Girls Gymnastics, Boys & Girls Soccer, Boys & Girls Swimming & Diving, Wrestling, Athletes with Disabilities, Chess, Journalism, Music/Solo Ensemble, Music Organization, Athletic Officials, Scholastic Bowl, Speech-Debate, Speech-Individual Events, Drama & Group Interpretation, Sportsmanship, Sports Medicine, Student Advisory Committee, Athletic Administrators and Activities Director.

Consent items are recommendations that received approval from the sport/activity advisory committee, the Athletic Administrators Advisory Committee and the IHSA staff. Consent items can be viewed by clicking here.

No non-consent items were approved.

Some consent items of note include:
1. Eliminates the use of props in a competitive routine. Only crowd leading signs, poms, school flags/banners may be used in a safe manner.

1. The IHSA will develop a specific training curriculum and licensing option for volleyball line judges.

No appeals.

At each meeting of the Board of Directors, there are certain items the Board discusses, but upon which no action is taken. The following is a report of those items from the June 15, 2020, agenda:

1. The Board discussed whether it should waive or maintain IHSA By-law 2.150 requiring Physical Examinations for student-athletes in 2020-21. There was consideration for waiving the rule due to COVID-19, however, the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommends that it continue to be implemented.

2. The Board heard a report on a Policy being developed by the IHSA Sportsmanship Advisory Committee to address hate speech and harassment within IHSA contests. The group hopes to bring the completed policy to the Board for review and a vote in the coming months.

3. The Board heard a report from IHSA Assistant Executive Director Stacey Lambert on concussion reporting numbers as documented by IHSA Officials and ATCs from contests via Special Reports during the 2019-20 school year. A full summary of the data will be posted soon.

4. The Board heard a report on the Virtual Summer Meeting that the NFHS will hold June 28-July 2.

5. The Board heard a report on the by-laws changes voted on by member schools that will go into effect on July 1. To see all changes, click here.

6. The Board discussed the IHSA budget for the 2020-21 school year and potential options based on the impact of COVID-19.

7. The Board discussed if spring sports teams could still potentially play games in July. The Board had not approved an exemption to the season limitation by-law and will not do so at this juncture given the limitations of Phase 3 and Phase 4, coupled with returning students already participating in the IHSA Stage 1 Return To Play Guidelines. Schools may still choose to gather to honor seniors within Phase 3 guidelines, but no contests may be played with or against other schools.

Jason Hurst

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