For a lot of people who aren’t familiar with it, Peoria is recognized mainly as the world headquarters of Caterpillar. What an awesome feather in the cap it is for a city to be associated with a global company that has Caterpillar’s solid reputation. But there’s a new player in the game now.
More and more, Peoria is being recognized as the home of the Illinois High School Association’s boys basketball tournament. In my opinion, it is the greatest high school championship basketball tournament anywhere. Period. Year after year it produces memorable moments, heart-racing action, heartbreaking losses and terrific entertainment for fans of all ages. It also produces something else year after year: a tremendous impact on the Peoria area economy. In just two short weekends, six to seven million dollars will be pumped into local businesses.
But the tournaments don’t just “happen.” They require an incredible amount of detailed planning and manpower to execute successfully. There is a year-round effort spearheaded by a dedicated, hard-working group of people who make up the IHSA Steering Committee. There are hundreds of volunteers. And of course, there is a financial commitment by the local corporate community through sponsorships. Without any of these key components, Peoria might be in jeopardy of losing such a valuable event.
The recent events regarding AmerenCILCO underscore the reality that even our best corporate citizens are susceptible to a negative change in their economic environments at any given time, usually when we least expect it. And when they suffer, we all suffer. AmerenCILCO is one of the biggest sponsors of IHSA boys basketball. If a major corporate partner has to pull its sponsorship for any reason, the Peoria area community must be prepared to find another partner(s) willing to step up and fill that void.
Moreover, the need for corporate sponsorship spreads well beyond the IHSA. There are other events, like the National Softball Association tournaments at EastSide Centre, which bring just as many people to the Peoria area. Some are lesser known, but certainly not less important, or with lesser impact. The problem is, these economic generators aren’t cheap. They have expenses that need covered, and that’s where corporate sponsorship saves the day for local communities.
Another critical component to the success of the IHSA tournaments is volunteerism. More than 2,400 volunteers (1,200 each weekend) work tirelessly to maximize the experience for fans and visitors. Few communities, if any, can match the spirit of giving the people of the Peoria area provide on two weekends in March every year. We find several familiar faces donning the volunteer shirts for every tournament. But again, the need spreads far beyond the IHSA. Unfortunately volunteers are becoming harder and harder to find, a trend we can ill afford to continue.
Make no mistake, Peoria leads the way when it comes to bringing first-class events to the area and providing the corporate sponsorship, volunteers and hospitality those events require to succeed. But as we look forward, we can’t forget what got us here. It’s too critical to our future success. IBI