From the Peoria Sunday Morning League, the nation’s oldest amateur baseball league, to the Louisville Slugger Complex, the only facility associated with the premier brand in diamond sports, sports are huge in Greater Peoria. With world-class venues hosting sports of all kinds, the competitive tradition is alive and well across the region.
While it’s just a short drive to Chicago, St. Louis or Indianapolis, there are plenty of opportunities to follow top national prospects right here at home. The Peoria Rivermen are the nation’s eighth oldest continuously operating minor-league hockey franchise, while the Peoria Chiefs are the Class A professional affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
With a presence dating back to 1878, the Peoria Chiefs have seen many future superstars pass through town, from Albert Pujols to Greg Maddux. Today, the team plays their home games at Dozer Park in Downtown Peoria—a hometown favorite and showcase for future big leaguers. Peoria is also the proud home of slugger Jim Thome, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018, and basketball star Shaun Livingston, who spent 15 years in the NBA before retiring last year.
Meanwhile, the Peoria Rivermen continue to set the standard as the best team in the Southern Professional Hockey League. With a 40-7-9 record, their 2018-19 season is considered by many to be the finest in SPHL history. The team set nine league records, including most wins and points in a single season, while center Ben Blasko led the league in scoring and assists on his way to being named Rookie of the Year. Peoria is also home to the Mustangs, a Junior A team in the North American Tier III Hockey League.
Bradley University’s men’s basketball program has a strong collegiate legacy, including three Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championships, nine NCAA tournament appearances, and numerous players graduated to the NBA. In the 2018-19 season, Bradley claimed its first MVC tournament championship in more than three decades and made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006.
Bradley men’s golf won its first-ever MVC championship in 2018, while the men’s cross-country team took home its fifth straight MVC title in 2019 and the women’s team claimed its seventh-straight top-two finish. With four MVC championships, Bradley’s soccer team is another perennial contender, while the university also garners national attention in baseball, softball and volleyball.
With six national tournament championships in the past 30 years, the women’s basketball program at Illinois Central College is among the nation’s all-time winningest community college teams, while its softball and volleyball teams have also achieved national recognition. Robert Morris University and Eureka College also offer a variety of men’s and women’s collegiate sports.
With its longstanding tradition of high school basketball, Peoria is the perfect host for the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) boys’ state basketball tournament, one of the nation’s premier sporting events. The tournament has been held at the Peoria Civic Center since 1996, accompanied by the March Madness Experience—a family-friendly extravaganza of interactive games, exhibits and activities.
Across the river, EastSide Centre in East Peoria hosts the IHSA softball state finals and welcomed the Class 1A boys soccer finals for the fourth time in 2019. Peoria’s Detweiller Park recently celebrated its 50th year hosting the cross-country state finals, while Dozer Park hosts the Class 1A and 2A state baseball finals.
In north Peoria, the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex is one of the nation’s premier youth sports facilities—a year-round destination for youth sports and adult leagues. With 10 outdoor diamonds and one of the largest domed facilities in the Midwest, it hosts major regional tournaments that attract some 250,000 visitors each year.
Youth soccer also plays in Greater Peoria. The Peoria FC United complex in Mossville, home of the region’s premier soccer club, is the largest indoor/outdoor soccer facility between Chicago and St. Louis. Each year it hosts the River City Soccer Invitational, an area tradition for four decades. In Peoria Heights, the John Gaspar Soccer Academy develops youth soccer players and hosts indoor leagues, while Central Illinois United brings top area players together to compete against the best teams from around the Midwest.
RUNS & RACES
Pre-eminent among the region’s many walks, runs and races is the Steamboat Classic—a premier running event since 1974, attracting participants from around the world. Steamboat is comprised of the 4-Mile, one of the world’s fastest four-mile courses; the 15K, regarded as “Illinois’ Toughest 15K”; and the 2-Mile, for those who want the experience but aren’t quite ready for the 4-Mile or 15K.
Through events like Steamboat and the IVS Half Marathon, the Illinois Valley Striders promote community health and wellness, while ShaZam Racing hosts many unique races, including the Whiskeydaddle, featuring a Boston-qualifying marathon, downtown flat, fast 5K and more. With multiple St. Jude Runs and a host of other charity runs, there are many ways for people of all ages and abilities to hit the pavement while giving back to the community.
TRACKS & TRAILS
Cycling events are sponsored throughout the year by the Peoria Bicycle Club, Illinois Valley Wheelm’n and Peoria Area Mountain Bike Association, which maintains seven area trail systems. The Peoria Motorcycle Club in Bartonville is home to the world’s longest-running dirt track race, the AMA Pro Grand National Championship TT, held each year since 1947.
In West Peoria, Peoria Speedway hosts weekly auto races on its quarter-mile, semi-banked dirt track, while the Central Illinois Dragway in Havana and Lincoln Speedway in Lincoln offer more exciting options. Meanwhile, area NASCAR fans look to Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, sponsored by Caterpillar Inc. After years of series wins with driver Ryan Newman, RCR promoted Daniel Hemric to drive the car during its 50th anniversary year in 2019.PP