- Our Sites
- The News-Gazette
- NewsTalk 1400 WDWS-AM
- Lite Rock 97.5 WHMS
- 107.9 WKIO
- Community News
By TIM EVANS
Press general manager
Camp Rantoul is coming back to town — for even a longer session this August, and the scrimmage at RTHS that was eliminated last year may be back on the schedule.
The University of Illinois Athletic Department announced over the weekend it will be hosting the annual Camp Rantoul on Aug. 11-20 as the Fighting Illini football team and second-year coach Tim Beckman come back to the community’s south side for practices that will feature about 100 football players.
There was some concern whether Beckman and his team would return to the off-campus site after cutting back on the camp schedule last year. But Beckman told Rantoul Press Monday morning he “really did” have a great experience in Rantoul this year. He said he didn’t know what to expect going into the camp last year, but said after the experience it was a “no-brainer” to return to Rantoul this summer.
“It was first class. Everything was first class,” said Beckman of the camp, noting he’d been to NFL camps as a child and called Camp Rantoul a similar experience.
“The food was exceptional, the facilities were outstanding and the timing was perfect for us,” he said, noting the camp was as good as any NFL session he’s attended.
Beckman said the camp is vital in keeping his team together following the start of practices in Champaign the previous week.
“We’ll move up there and have our second half of two-a-days,” the coach said.
He called the camp a “win-win situation” and said hosting Camp Rantoul is “best for his football team” and said extending the camp to 10 days presents an opportunity for the community to host a scrimmage either on Friday or Saturday night.
“It’s something I’m sure considering,” he said and noted he wants to hear more about details and see the Rantoul Township High School facilities for himself. “The scrimmage is definitely something we’d like to do,” he said.
Kent Brown, U of I Athletic Department director for media relations, said the Illini coaching staff was quite pleased with the way the camp went last year and is expanding it to 10 days this season.
“His takeaway from it was very positive,” Brown said.
“After experiencing it (camp Rantoul) for a year, the layout of the facility, Quarters (the hotel where they stay next to the practice facilities), locker rooms and the fact everything was a short walk from one place to another, the coach was very excited and impressed with what could be done up there,” Brown said.
The decision didn’t come as a surprise to Rantoul Recreation Department Director Rich Thomas.
“I knew they had a positive experience at last year’s camp and were very interested in coming back,” he said. “It’s nice to hear the news, noting he knows the coaching staff has been busy recruiting and now can concentrate on lining up spring practice plans.
Brown said the camp will come in the middle of preseason practices for most of the team (a few can’t practice until the school year begins) and gives the Illinois practice facilities on campus a break as well.
“It’s been a long and very good relationship,” said Brown. “Rich and his staff do a very good job. It gives us a chance to focus completely on football while we’re there.”
Beckman couldn’t praise the organizers of Camp Rantoul enough.
“The city and the community did a fabulous job last year,” he said.
Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams was pleased to hear the news, although noting the village hasn’t heard official word about the camp from the U of I.
“It’s a real good thing for Rantoul,” Williams said.
He noted that the camp helps to showcase the community through major media coverage that includes the Big Ten Network, WGN as well as newspaper and radio media.
Williams said he was proud of every member of his staff that had anything to do with Camp Rantoul a year ago when Beckman first came to town.
“We put our best foot forward and rolled out the red carpet,” Williams said. “Obviously, they did an excellent job because they’re coming back.”
Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl said the camp helps the community in many ways — from bringing in tax dollars to being in the sports spotlight for 10 days.
“We have the perfect set-up for a camp like that,” he said. “We glad we’re able to continue our relationship with the U of I.”
Williams said a big part of keeping the Illini coming back to the camp is the construction of a new 144- by 50-foot building on the site that houses locker facilities, showers, a training room, meeting room and offices. The facility was completed just in time for last year’s camp through the efforts of dozens of local volunteers, who helped hold down the costs of the new structure, a facility Beckman called “outstanding.”
“It was a community effort,” Thomas said. “We had a lot of volunteer labor.”
He also said the foot lockers made for the facility were produced in the village’s wood-working facility.
Williams pointed out the Illini aren’t the only team using the facility. The high school wrestling team used the building this season for practices. and the youth wrestling program uses the building.
Thomas said other high school camps have also committed to using the facility this summer, including Tolono Unity’s short Triple Threat camp in June while the village also has commitments from football programs for Reitz High School in Evansville, Ind., as well as Chicago’s Leo Catholic, Huntley and Prospect high schools.
The scrimmage, which wasn’t held last year due to the shorter number of Camp Rantoul practice days, gives an opportunity for Illini fans to watch the team in a practice game situation on an actual field. Several local organizations also benefit from concession sales at the event.