Tag Archives: Peoria Civic Center

Central Illinois Royals Football

Riding the COVID Roller Coaster in Peoria

Remember when each season brought a different array of events to follow in central Illinois? Explore Peoria remembers.

But that was before the pandemic. Now in the spring of 2021, as vaccinations spread across the community, there are signs of hope.

Yet this month (April) saw the coronavirus return with a vengeance. The Peoria area was labeled a national epicenter for COVID-19 by Dr. Doug Kasper, interim section head of infectious disease at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, who urged continued caution by area residents on WMBD, a Peoria radio station.

The Peoria area has become accustomed to the stop-and-go, roller-coaster ride that’s become the norm in the era of the coronavirus.

It’s been more than a year that restrictions have been put in place to reduce the spread of the virus. Work and school routines have been altered. The elimination of crowds and the closing of many places of business has become a routine.

Apparently, we’re not out of the woods yet. Despite these problems, however, the area’s sports light is flickering back on.

Consider Andrew “AJ” Funk, the 29-year-old substitute teacher from Morton who’s trying to bring arena football back to central Illinois in the middle of a pandemic.

The Central Illinois Royals play the Kurse from Kentucky this Saturday (April 24) at the Morton Park District Indoor Sports Facility (located at 324 S. Detroit Ave. in Morton). For more information, visit http://royalsfootball.com

“We’ve worked on setting up arena football for a couple of years but COVID has thrown a curve ball into it,” said Funk, who played football at Eureka College.

In the newly-formed division, the Royals square off against teams like the Great Lakes Phoenix, St. Louis Bandits and Indianapolis Enforcers.

“We’ve had eight games on the schedule so far. After Saturday’s game we’ve got a home game at the end of May and another in early June,” he said.

With capacity limited to only a few hundred people at the Morton facility (when restrictions are not in effect), the Royals have sought to stream games to allow for more exposure. “We’re just trying to get things off the ground this year,” said Funk, who also serves with the Illinois National Guard and as a volunteer fireman when not organizing football games.

Funk said he hopes to recreate the excitement of arena football in the area that was enjoyed by the Peoria Pirates, who played at the Peoria Civic Center from 1999 to 2009.

Also looking to stir some excitement is Jason Mott, general manager of the Peoria Chiefs, the Class A farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals.

“We’re playing catch-up,” said Mott, referring to the fact that the team had to cancel its 2020 season in Peoria.

“We just hope we’re moving forward—not backward. We’re definitely excited to bring pro baseball back here,” he said.

“Everything is subject to change. We’ll adjust as we go. We’re expecting to be able to accommodate 25 percent capacity when we open. That’s about 1,250 people in the bowl,” said Mott.

Look for some changes to accommodate public safety, he said. “We encourage people to get tickets early. We’re trying to eliminate lines,” said Mott.

“We can’t do things on the field with the fans we used to do. We’re also working on some new food options. People can order online and pick it up at the stand (inside the park) or have it delivered to their seats,” he said.

The impact of the pandemic varies across the league, said Mott, noting that teams like the Quad Cities Bandits are able to go “wide open” when it comes to crowds at their home park in Davenport, Iowa.

Another area team looking to get back on track in 2021 is the Peoria Rivermen ice hockey team that kicks off its 40th season at the Peoria Civic Center in October.

“I would hope that by the end of October we’d be able to put enough people in the PCC to cover our annual operations budget of $1.7 million,” said Bart Rogers, the Rivermen owner and CEO.

Forced to cancel last year’s season, the Rivermen look to take advantage of pent-up demand, he said. “We have lots of good things planned. Three-quarters of our fans are casual fans who might come out once or twice a year. We want to draw them back,” said Rogers.

A new addition to this year’s schedule involve games with a new team in the league, the Vermilion County Bobcats out of Danville, he said.

“Not only will playing in Danville save traveling costs but it gives Rivermen fans around the state the chance to see more hockey,” said Rogers.

Part of the Rivermen organization since 1992, Rogers credited Bruce Saurs, the late former owner, with making the commitment responsible for the team’s success and longevity.

With promotions to honor the team’s 40th year already in the works, Rogers is proud of what the Rivermen have accomplished in Peoria. “We have the seventh longest streak for a pro hockey franchise in the country outside of the National Hockey League,” he said.

Meanwhile the Peoria Civic Center is hoping conditions improve enough to allow for activities before Rivermen games return in late October.

Rik Edgar, the Peoria Civic Center’s general manager, hopes to bring the arena back to life as soon as possible. “We should know more in the next 30 to 45 days,” he said in an email.

It was recently announced that the Center’s Carver Arena will host the Illinois Regional Basketball Tournament (TBT) from July 24 to 28. Among the 16 teams participating will be alumni squads from the University of Illinois and Bradley University.

Other area openings are also on the horizon. After being closed all of last year, the Wheels O’ Time Museum (located at 1710 W. Woodside Drive in Dunlap) plans to open on Saturday, May 1 while the Peoria Riverfront Museum, already holding events, is gearing up for the opening of a national exhibit, “T-Rex—the Ultimate Predator” on May 29.

IHSA Boys Basketball is Back in Town

March Madness is a term that’s become synonymous with Peoria in Illinois. That’s because this is the 25th year that the Illinois High School Association (IHSA Boys Basketball) tournament will be held at the Peoria Civic Center.

The Class 1A and 2A championship games will be played March 12-14 while Class 3A and 4A (the bigger schools) will square off on March 19-21.

“It’s become more than just a basketball event,” said Kurt Gibson, the IHSA’s associate executive director.

“We’ve been able to do a lot of things in Peoria—from youth clinics to wheelchair events. The March Madness Experience opened up new opportunities for the fans and the competing schools,” he said.

The March Madness Experience, a veritable basketball funhouse that operates in the Civic Center Exhibit Hall while games are played in Carver Arena next door, allows kids of all ages to take part in hands-on activities such as bungee basketball, Pop-a-Shot and Sky Ball. It also gives boys and girls the opportunity to try their hand at free throws or three-point shots. Gibson credited area volunteers and sponsors for making the Experience a popular attraction at each year’s tournament.

Royal Duncan, president of Royal Publishing, a Peoria-based company that publishes sports programs throughout the Midwest, is one of those that has followed IHSA Boys Basketball tournament games closely since the championships came to Peoria in 1996.

“I had an attendance streak of 332 straight tournament games (in Peoria) until I got the flu two years ago,” said Duncan. “I love high-school sports, especially basketball. I’ve had the opportunity to see great players compete here in Peoria such as Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer and Jabari Parker,” he said.

But just as competition is a way of life on the basketball court, the same is true when it comes to deciding where to hold the tournament. The IHSA plans to announce the site for both the boys and girls tournaments for the next three years when association board members meet in April, said Gibson.

While Peoria and Champaign both put in bids for the boys tournament, Peoria is also battling Bloomington for the girls tourney that’s been held at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena since 1992.

J.D. Dalfonso, CEO of the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, believes Peoria has a chance to host both tournaments. “With the new format coming for the IHSA basketball tournaments, we felt this is a great opportunity to put a strong bid in for the girls, as well,” he said, pointing to the fact that next year, the IHSA will have all four classes decide a champion team over one weekend instead of two.

Meanwhile, Dalfonso’s opposite number, the head of the Champaign County visitors bureau, believes that renovations made to State Farm Center, the arena old-timers knew as the Assembly Hall, gives that venue a chance to host the tournament held on the U of I campus from 1919 to 1995.

The IHSA is looking to stem a decline in attendance at tournament games in recent years, said Gibson, admitting that one of the reasons he’s heard is the change from a two-class tournament to four classes.

“There are a lot of dynamics at play. There are also more entertainment opportunities for individuals now than there were just 10 years ago,” he said.

It’s not just IHSA Boys Basketball tournament games that have been impacted, said Gibson, citing attendance declines at regular-season games throughout the state.

While coaches and school officials work out plans to put more fans in the seats, one thing is certain: the excitement is building as March Madness arrives again in Peoria.  Find details for the IHSA Boys Basketball games on the ExplorePeoria.com events calendar.

Illinois’ Best High School Musicians Coming to Peoria

Music is alive & well in Illinois!  After months and months of auditions and rehearsals, the best high school musicians will descend upon Peoria for the annual ILMEA conference.  This year’s Illinois Music Educators Conference dates are January 30 – February 1st and will take place in various locations throughout downtown Peoria including the Mariott Pere Marquette, the Marriott Courtyard Downtown, the First United Methodist Church, the Scottish Rite Cathedral and the Peoria Civic Center.

Auditions took place in the fall in each of the 9 districts in Illinois for choir, band, orchestra as well as instrumental jazz and vocal.  Students will spend Thursday & Friday rehearsing while teachers attend sessions focused on a wide variety of music eduction topics.

The conference concludes with the All State Jazz concert on Friday and the All State and Honors Band, Choral and Orchestra concerts on Saturday all happening at the Civic Center.  The All State Elementary School Concerts also take place on Saturday morning at the Civic Center.

With over 11,500 attendees of the conference, the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates over 3,000 hotel room nights at 25 hotels in Peoria and the surrounding communities will generate a whopping $3.4 million in estimated economic impact generated for the Peoria Area.   The conference has taken place in Peoria since 1985 and last April, the organization signed a 5 year contract to continue to “Play in Peoria” each January through 2025.

Teachers will be able to find a variety of products and services from the around 250 exhibitors who will be on hand at the conference trade show in the Civic Center Exhibit Hall.

Virtually any type of music will be discussed or performed at the conference.  Several performances are open to the public including the Friday All-State Jazz Night Concert taking place in the Peoria Civic Center Theater beginning at 7:30 pm. The All-State Band, Choral & Orchestra Concert will start on Saturday at 1 pm and the Honors Concert will begin at 3:30 pm both in the Peoria Civic Center arena.  Tickets for each concert are $5 per person.

To find more information about ILMEA and the IMEC conference, visit https://www.facebook.com/ILMusicEd

Making Magic with Big Bird

Brandon Wagner takes the role of Big Bird seriously, knowing his character has brought happiness to kids since the “Sesame Street” TV show first went on the air 50 years ago.

Wagner has performed as Big Bird in over 250 shows since 2018 as “Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic” has played at arenas across the country. Big Bird will be joined by other favorite “Sesame Street”characters like Elmo, Grover and Cookie Monster in two performances at the Peoria Civic Center on Sunday, Jan. 26.

No stranger to entertaining the young, Wagner, a 30-year-old Los Angeles native, started as a stilt-walker and puppeteer at Disneyland at the age of 19.

After a stint at the Magic Kingdom, he spent four years performing on board Disney cruise ships in different roles.

“There wasn’t much need for a stilt-walker on a cruise ship,” Wagner noted.

He came by his present position after attending an audition for a live show with the Marvel Universe, another Disney enterprise. While he didn’t wind up on the Marvel team, Wagner caught the eye of a “Sesame Street Live” director. Before long, he was traveling the country as Big Bird.

It’s a part Wagner is very familiar with. “I grew up watching ‘Sesame Street’ on TV. At the age of four, I was telling random strangers that I had a ‘Sesame Street’ tape,” he laughed.

Wagner enjoys the traveling–by bus and plane–involved with the live show, noting that, when he’s not performing, he takes the time to capture highlights of different locales on video that he shares with family and friends.
“There’s a message for kids and adults who get captivated by the show,” he said.

“Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic” explores the magical qualities of everyday  life, said Wagner. “With Big Bird, shadows come to life,” he said. Other “Sesame Street” characters explore their own magic in the live show such as Abby Cadabby, who experiences the transformative abilities of caterpillars, and Cookie Monster, who uncovers the science and fun of baking.

While Wagner must mimic Big Bird’s mannerisms and maneuver the eight-foot costume through high-energy dance routines, he doesn’t have to reproduce Big Bird’s distinct voice. “All our character dialogue is recorded so that audiences hear what they’re familiar with,” he said.

Big Bird was voiced and played by the late Caroll Spinney for nearly 50 years. Spinney retired in 2018 when Matt Vogel took over the Big Bird role on the television program.

Wagner looks forward to performing in central Illinois. “I’ve never been to Peoria; I’m excited to visit,” he said.
Meet-and-greet opportunities for central Illinois “Sesame Street” fans will be available an hour before both Peoria performances, added Wagner. “For a small upcharge, you get to meet the characters up close,” he said. 

Tickets for “Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic: start at $15. All seats are reserved, and tickets are available at the Peoria Civic Center box office or online www.sesamestreetlive.com
 For group rates and information, call 309-680-3551.


New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Looking for New Year’s Eve Celebrations?  There are quite a few ways to welcome 2020 for families or for a date night with your significant other in the Peoria area this year!

Date Night New Year’s Eve Celebrations:

The Dueling Pianos Annual New Year’s Eve Bash will take place at The Waterhouse (located at 316 SW Washington St. in Peoria) beginning at 7 pm. Featuring a two entree buffet dinner, 4 types of draft beer, 7 types of wine, premium mixed drinks, soft drinks, party favors, a champagne toast at midnight and the dueling pianos show presented by Central Illinois Dueling Pianos, tickets are $89 and are available at https://thewaterhouse.tix.com

The Best of the Barn Christmas New Year’s Eve will be presented at the Barn III Dinner Theatre in Goodfield beginning at 7 pm. Featuring live music, dancing and a ball drop celebration as well as music from secular to sacred plus skits, tickets are $65.50 and are available by calling 309-965-2545 or visit www.thebarniii.com

A New Orleans New Year will take place at the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts (located at 1327 East Kelly Ave. in Peoria Heights) beginning at 7 pm. Featuring music from The Todd Kelly Quartet, Nathan Taylor Band and juanGoblin plus New Orleans inspired food, tickets are $60 per person and are available at www.thebettyjayne.com

Ring-a-Ding-Ding New Year will be presented by Peoria Players Theatre (located at 4300 N. University in Peoria) beginning at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $25 for all ages which includes complimentary hors d’oeuvres and are available at the box office or by calling 309-688-4473. For more information, visit www.peoriaplayers.org

A New Year’s Eve Dinner & Dance will take place on the Spirit of Peoria from 6 – 10 pm. Featuring Chuck & the C-Notes with a big band sound and a a prime rib buffet, tickets are $55 for adults and $24 for children 4 – 15 and reservations are required. To make reservations and for more information, call 309-637-8000 or visit www.spiritofpeoria.com

The 2019 NYE Countdown will feature the Joe Stamm Band in the Peoria Civic Center Exhibit Hall from 9:45 – 11:45 pm followed by a countdown to 2020 a ball drop and fireworks display outside of City Hall. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.peoriaciviccenter.com

The Peoria Symphony Orchestra’s New Year’s Eve event will take place at the Twelve Bar (located at 4500 North Prospect Road in Peoria Heights) beginning at 7 pm. Featuring PSO musicians and guest artists including Marcia Henry Liebenow and the Judy Page Project, specialty cocktails, farm-to-plate hors d’oeuvres, small plates from Edge and a champagne toast, tickets are $75 per person. For more information, visit www.facebook.com

A Roaring 20’s Extravaganza “Fellas & Flappers” will take place at the Scottish Rite Theatre (located at 400 NE Perry in downtown Peoria) from 7:30 – 12:30 am. Featuring hors d’oeuvres, a champagne toast, dancing to the sound of the Grand Marquis performing jazz and blues, tickets are $125. All proceeds from the event will benefit the 2020 Peoria Heights Fine Art Fair. For more information, visit www.facebook.com

The Denim and Flannel New Year’s Eve Bash will take place at the Avanti’s Dome (located at 3401 Griffin Ave. in Pekin) beginning at 8 pm. Featuring the NATU Band and Aileeah Colgan, there will also be a cowboy/girl themed costume contest, a cornhole, a mechanical bull, gift bags for all attendees plus a champagne toast at midnight. Tickets are $7.50 or $60 for VIP open bar tickets. Avanti’s food and drink vendors will be available. For full details, visit http://avantisdome.com

New Year’s Eve at the CAC will take place at the Contemporary Art Center featuring a dance lesson from 8:30 – 9:30 pm and open dancing to DJ Ed Caballero from 9:30 pm – 1 am. Welcome in the New Year with party favors and a champagne toast. You may bring your own drinks and food. Admission is $7 for members or $10 for non-members. For more information, call 309-674-6822 or visit www.peoriacac.org

And for the runners in the area, the 19th Annual Get Lit New Year’s Eve Fun Run will take place at Folepi’s Winter Wonderland (on Par Three Lane off Springfield Road in East Peoria) beginning at 9 pm. Part of the Festival of Lights, you can run, walk or ride the lighted trolley through Folepi’s Winter Wonderland plus warm up by the bonfire and enjoy campfire treats. Entry fee is $20 per person. For more information, call 309-698-5437 or visit www.cityofeastpeoria.com

Kids & Families New Year’s Eve Celebrations:

A Noon Year’s Eve: Paleo Party will take place at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum (located at 2218 N Prospect Rd. in Peoria) from 10 am – 12:30 pm. Featuring Communication Junction leading sign and sing story times, kids can decorate party masks, play dinosaur themed games with prizes, dance at the Dino Stomp dance party, go a scavenger hunt in the new exhibit Fossils Rock and then at noon, celebrate the New Year with a special surprise and cupcakes. Cost is $8 for members and $16 for the public which includes admission to the Playhouse. For more information, visit https://peoriaplayhouse.org

Catch the tail end of the annual Festival of Lights Winter Wonderland at the VFW Post 2078 Park off Springfield Road (located at 123 Par 3 Lane in East Peoria) from 5 – 9 pm. The drive-through electric park is the Festival of Lights’ signature event featuring the majority of the Parade of Lights floats and many other lighted displays. Cost is $10 for cars, $30 small buses (party, shuttle, mini & school), and $150 for full size buses. For more information, visit www.folepi.org

A New Year’s Eve Countdown will take place at the Peoria Civic Center from 2 – 6 pm. Featuring kids activities, face painting, balloon artists, inflatable bouncers, a magician, an “instrument petting zoo” presented by the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, a performance by the Peoria Notre Dame drumline followed by a children’s ball drop at 6 pm.  Admission is free. For more information, visit www.peoriaciviccenter.com

Remember, in addition to New Year’s Eve Celebrations, you can always find Peoria area events & entertainment on our Events Calendar!

Disney on Ice

PEORIA — One of the Green Army soldiers from “Toy Story 3” that will swarm into the Peoria Civic Center arena this weekend as part of Disney On Ice:  Worlds of Enchantment is Leocadia Lellig, a 19-year-old champion skater from Reading, Pa.

Leo, as she’s called, also plays a seahorse during the “The Little Mermaid” sequence at the Disney show that will offer six performances Friday, Sept. 27 through Sunday, Sept. 29 at the Peoria Civic Center where tickets start as low as $15.

She calls it a dream job, traveling from city to city with the 40 other skaters in the show on a schedule running from September through May. “We’ll be in Lincoln, Neb. after Peoria but we’re going all over with dates in New Mexico and California planned,” said Lellig in a telephone interview.

On ice since she was four, Lellig was a competitive skater for eight years, capping her career with two weeks of performances at an indoor ski park in Brazil two years ago.

In her second year on the “Disney on Ice” tour, she hopes to skate her way to the top. “I’d like to work my way up to have a principal role with ‘Disney on Ice. I also look forward to going overseas,'” she said.

Disney on Ice: Worlds of Enchantment

As one of the longest-running ice shows around in the world, “Disney on Ice” is a globe-trotting sensation. “It started in the 1980s. But there’s always something new. It’s been revamped many times over the years,” said Lellig, one of the some 100 individuals that fill four buses as the show makes its way across the country while 10 semi-trailers are required to transport the lights, fixtures and props used in each production (that takes 12 1/2 hours to set up each time).

A ballet enthusiast, Lellig enjoys life on the road. “We usually have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off to explore the cities we visit,” she said.

How can you recognize Lellig, who’s among the Disney skaters who like to eat chocolate before a performance? Simple. She’ll be the one wearing a pair of her mom’s diamond earrings. “I’ve done that at every competition or show I’ve performed in,” she said.

ExplorePeoria.com fans can get a $5 off select tickets for the Friday, September 27th 7 pm show, the Saturday, September 28th 7 pm show and the Sunday, September 29th 5 pm by using the code WORLDS5 at Ticketmaster.com  Valid through September 29, 2019 on price levels P4 & P5 0nly.