RANTOUL — The IHSA state softball tournament won’t be coming to Rantoul next year. Or the year after.
The village of Rantoul had bid to have the tourney played beginning next year at the under-construction Rantoul Family Sports Complex going up on the village’s west side. The IHSA, however, awarded the tournament for 2021-25 to Peoria’s Louisville Slugger Complex.
East Peoria’s Eastside Centre had hosted the tournament since 2001. Rantoul was one of five bidders for the event.
Rantoul Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said the village is disappointed but said it could benefit in the long run.
“This bidding process provided us with a great learning experience” Eisenhauer said, “and although disappointed we were not chosen to host this event, we strongly believe, once the complex is completed, the lessons we learned this time will lead us to great success hosting future state, regional and national events.”
Eisenhauer said some community members helped to support the village’s efforts to land the tournament and cited Visit Champaign County for its role.
Rantoul was hoping to lure the event away from its long-time home with the promise of a new complex situated right alongside Interstate 57 that will feature eight turf fields for a variety of sports. Three of those fields are set to be equipped to handle softball games, with one described as a “championship softball field.”
EastSide Centre has multiple softball fields at its complex, but only uses one diamond for its state tournament games, and none of its field feature a turf playing surface, an aspect Eisenhauer is touting.
“With our facility being an all-synthetic turf surface, it will greatly reduce concerns about rain-outs or long delays following a rain event,” Eisenhauer said.
“We believe we have a high-quality facility in a community and county which is very supportive of high school athletics. We know eventually we will have hotels adjacent to the complex, which will be a benefit to teams and their fans.”
A local seven-person group also plans to build an entertainment facility next to the sports complex that will include miniature golf, an arcade with 10 to 12 machines, bar, snack bar and gaming machines. The facility will take up 2 of the 3 acres that the group owns.
The group says the facility will provide an ideal location for fans and others to go to between games at the sports complex. Eisenhauer said groundbreaking on the arcade-mini golf facility could take place in October.
The village worked in conjunction with Visit Champaign County to put together its bid for the state softball tournament, with discussions between the two entities starting last fall. Champaign is set to host three IHSA state tournaments during the 2020-21 school year — eight football state title games at Memorial Stadium in late November, the three-class state wrestling meet in February at State Farm Center and the four-class boys basketball state tournament in March at State Farm Center — but Visit Champaign County CEO Jayne DeLuce said her organization wanted to go after a girls sport.
“We’ve been working on it actively,” DeLuce said. “Softball seemed like a wonderful bid, and Rantoul was willing to go after it. We submitted the bid together with their input. We’re supportive of not only what the complex field will be, but also the videoboard and the amenities that they’ll have there.”
Mike Koon, director of sports, events and film for Visit Champaign County, said, “While we are certainly disappointed not to be selected for the IHSA state softball finals during this round, Visit Champaign County is excited for the possibilities being presented by the state-of-the-art Rantoul Family Sports Complex.
“We believe that when completed, the complex will provide a memorable atmosphere for thousands of athletes from around the state and the Midwest. Much like the other IHSA finals we host, our community has been 100 percent behind the effort to bring the state’s best softball athletes to our area. We thank the IHSA staff and board for an opportunity to present our bid to them.”
Matt Daniels contributed to this story.