NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — The season that began with 679 high school girls’ basketball teams is now down to only 16. The girls have migrated to the Twin Cities this weekend where they will compete to be crowned queens of the court in the 2020 state championship title race.
Nearly 20,000 fans are expected to fill redbird arena these next two weekends bringing in about $1.4 million to the Twin Cities, but after this year — it could be another city benefiting from the tournament.
“This year I think we are ready to play,” said Sydney Shaeffer, Lewistown Senior Guard. “Last year we were scared and nervous, but we got it this year.”
By Saturday night Illinois will have a new team topping the 1a and 2a rankings as the best 4 teams in each class face off in the battle for the title.
“Hopefully we play loose, and when we play loose we usually play better,” said Lewistown Coach, Greg Bennett. “We are not going to worry about any pressure down here. The pressure was man if we don’t win this regional championship game we aren’t going to state. Well we are at state, so we have lost a lot of that pressure.”
The tournament has been held at Redbird Arena for decades, making it a tradition as teams set their preseason goals of getting to Normal at the end of the year. But what was a tradition, could soon become history, as leaders are discussing possibly moving the tournament to a different city.
“We are very excited that we have had the opportunity to bid on this event for another 3 year contract,” said Director of Sports and Market Development, Matt Hawkins. “We feel pretty good about our bid, but we certainly are hopeful that they come through and put their faith in us to host another period.”
Leaders at the Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau requested another three year contract with IHSA. Hawkins says they won’t know if they are chosen until April.
“We have been talking to them throughout the process, working with the staff at IHSA. “We are going to talk to ISU staff next week to see what else we can do to improve our bid.”
In addition to people paying to see the games, Hawkins says hosting the tournament makes visitors pay for gas, hotel rooms, and restaurants, putting all that money into the Bloomington-Normal economy.
However, leaders at IHSA say change isn’t always a bad thing.
“There’s certain venues in certain sports where it just sort of becomes home and you feel good about it,” said Matt Troha, Assistant Executive Director of IHSA. “But you can make a case that it can be nice to switch things up. Maybe with a new venue, it attracts new attention.”
The tournament begins Friday and ends Saturday. The championship action will continue at Redbird arena the following weekend, March 6-7, where the class 3a and 4a teams will compete for their state title.