This is the first year Northern Illinois University will host the Illinois High School Association football finals. DeKalb will alternate hosting duties with Champaign-Urbana through the year 2021.
UPDATE: Sycamore did not advance to the finals, with a loss to Montini over the weekend. Lena and Batavia did advance to the championship games.
The match-ups are expected to bring in at least 30,000 fans.
Many of those visitors will be buying gas, eating meals, and possibly staying overnight.
That's music to Debbie Armstrong's ears. She sits on the planning committee and is the executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She says the state of Illinois is helping crunch the numbers for estimating the economic impact on the area:
“The Office of Tourism has worked closely with us trying to calculate that. Obviously, they work with numbers like ‘how much is a gallon of gas?’ and ‘what’s an average meal cost in your area?’ " she said.
Whether its DeKalb, Sycamore, or Rochelle, the area stands to gain money from sales tax.
“If someone does stay in a hotel a night, the average that person spends over and above their hotel is usually about $100 a day,” Armstrong noted.
Officials with the planning committee estimate it will cost about a quarter of a million dollars to put on the event. That money comes from sponsorships.
“There’s really no way to get your hands around it until you have hosted the event," Armstrong said. "We are confident that we are going to two, three-fold make the money back into this area. Plus, the exposure is invaluable.”
It doesn’t hurt that many of these players are eyeing colleges for next year.
There will also be some changes coming temporarily to Huskie Stadium. Craig Anderson is an executive director for the IHSA and handles the football events. He says NIU’s bid to host the games was strengthen by the fact it was able to customize its field to younger players.
“The goal post uprights are wider in the high school rulebook, different than they are in college," Anderson said. "So after [NIU's] game on Tuesday, they are going to put new goal posts in, and that will adjust to the game -- and that’s a significant thing to our schools competing.”
But a lot of the work on the game days will be done by volunteers. An estimated 200 volunteers will handle many aspects of ushering in spectators, taking tickets, and coordinating parking. Brad Hoey represents NIU on the planning committee. He says those volunteers will be trained to make the event as seamless as possible.
“Eight of those teams are going to walk away with a championship and be absolutely euphoric. "The other eight are going to be very, very disappointed including their fans. The key thing is that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience so we want to make sure win or lose, everyone comes away a winner in the experience.” -Brad Hoey, Destination DeKalb committee member
The IHSA's Craig Anderson agrees:
“As long as the event is run in a consistent manner -- where the fair play opportunity is provided to all participants -- at end of the day," he said, "we know there’s going to be winners and there’s going to be losers.”
The games will be held next Friday and Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
On a rainy afternoon, the Sycamore High School football team is getting ready for Saturday’s game against Lombard. The winner will play in next week’s championship round at Huskie stadium. Sycamore’s athletic director Chauncey Carrick says there’s a lot of excitement in the air.
“It’s just unbelievable how the morale of our school has gone through the roof,” Carrick said.
It’s only the third time the Spartans have made it this far. And while the school and its fans are proud of the team, the athletics department is also proud of how it has addressed player safety in the age of concussion awareness. There’s been a lot of scrutiny on the NFL when it comes to long-term health effects from hits to the head.
Carrick says his school fully embraces new guidelines and protocols implemented by the IHSA to make sure student athletes avoid similar problems. Those rules were adopted as state law in 2011. They include getting cleared by a medical professional before being allowed to play again, and educating parents and students about the serious nature of head injuries.
Carrick also says coaches are careful about teaching their players certain techniques out on the field.
“As far as tackling [goes], we’ve always taught head to the side, use your shoulder, don’t lead with your head,” Carrick said
Carrick acknowledges that they’re still might be some high school football programs around the country that lean toward the old play through pain approach. He says those programs need to change, because the issue isn’t going away.
Kurt Gibson is an associate executive director with the IHSA. He says the association doesn’t track concussions. But he says they’re encouraged by the hundreds of notices they’ve received when players are taken out of games. Those notices began being filed when the state adopted its new rules.
“It shows people are becoming more comfortable with the rule,” Gibson said.
However, some worry that there are no penalties for schools that don’t comply. A federal proposal from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin would include tighter regulations. But Gibson worries that added rules would serve as a deterrent for removing players from games. At the same time, Gibson applauds other elements of Durbin’s proposal, including a focus on helping students in these cases make a smooth transition back to the classroom.
Doctor Cynthia LaBella is a sports medicine specialist who has done plenty of work in the area of concussions. She says Illinois has made great strides in addressing the matter. But she worries some cases might be slipping through the cracks, because schools aren’t required to have athletic trainers or doctors on the sidelines during regular season games. She says many of them don’t, because it can be costly. That means some athletes seek clearance in ways where there isn’t an immediate line of defense.
“They go to the ER, but they don’t get clearance from that ER doctor. But the parent tells the coach that the scan came back normal,” LaBella said.
LaBella says that’s why education is key. And until all parents and students are aware of the consequences, she says there needs to be a grassroots movement that coincides with current efforts, to make sure the message is received.