Track, field final meets staying put at Eastern Illinois
Despite being major events based on speed and distance, the Illinois High School Association Track and Field Boys and Girls final meets are intent on going nowhere.
The IHSA Board of Directors recently signed off on an extension recommendation for the finals to stay at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, with the extension starting next year and running through 2022. That would keep the event at EIU into its sixth decade, with the finals, which are run on two weekends -- one for the boys and one for the girls meets -- being at the university since the early 1970s.
Mark Bonnstetter, senior associate athletic director at EIU, told the McHenry Times in an email interview that the contract-extension terms were discussed and passed by the school's board of trustees before being approved by the IHSA Board. He was not aware of any other competitors to host the state meet.
“The IHSA State Track and Field finals have always allowed great statewide exposure for our university,” Bonnstetter said. “For most of the participants and fans, this event may be the only time they are in Charleston and on the campus of EIU. We want to make sure their experience in our city and on our campus is memorable and enjoyable.”
According to IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson in a statement on the organization's website, EIU is “synonymous with Illinois high-school track and field.”
EIU's first hosting gig for the boys' state meet was in 1972, when a scheduling problem developed at the regular host, Memorial Stadium in Champaign. After the final went back to Memorial Stadium in 1973, it returned to EIU in 1974 and stayed.
The girls' state meet has been at EIU since beginning in 1973.
“We enjoy a great partnership with EIU and the surrounding communities of Charleston and Mattoon,” Anderson said. “They provide amazing support for the event, and we are proud that another generation of IHSA track and field student-athletes will strive to compete at O’Brien Field on the final weekend of the season.”
Bonnstetter said officials, athletes and coaches can stay at EIU's dormitories during the meets.
“Many units on campus work diligently for several months in planning and preparing for the IHSA State Track and Field Finals,” he said.
The effect of the finals goes beyond EIU.
Diane Ratliff, director of tourism and special events for the city of Charleston, told the McHenry Times that while the city has not done an official economic-impact study of the finals on the area, the city's lodging facilities, which offer a total of approximately 150 rooms, are kept busy.
“Our hotels are always full those weekends,” she said.
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