With world-class venues for sporting events of all kinds, Greater Peoria offers something for everyone. From the Peoria Sunday Morning League—the oldest amateur baseball league in the country—to the Louisville Slugger Complex—the only facility associated with the premier brand in diamond sports—a strong competitive tradition is an enduring hallmark of central Illinois.
LEGACY OF PROS
While it’s just a short drive to Chicago, St. Louis or Indianapolis, there are plenty of opportunities to follow top prospects right here at home. The Peoria Rivermen is the nation’s eighth oldest continuously operating minor-league hockey franchise, while the Peoria Chiefs, Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, play their home games at Dozer Park in Downtown Peoria.
With a professional legacy dating back to the 1878 Peoria Reds, the Peoria Chiefs have seen a range of future superstars work their way up the ranks, from Albert Pujols to Greg Maddux. Last year marked the fourth straight season the Chiefs made the playoffs, with six players earning slots in the Midwest League All-Star game—more than any other Western Division team. Peoria is also the proud home of slugger Jim Thome, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Meanwhile the Peoria Rivermen continues to be the finest team in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), despite falling short in the 2018-19 season playoffs. With a 40-7-9 record, the Rivermen had what many consider to be the finest season of any team 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.
At Bradley University, the men’s basketball program has a strong legacy, including a trio of 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, making its first NCAA bid since 1955. The men’s cross-country team took home its third straight MVC title, while the women’s team garnered its third title in four years. With four MVC championships, Bradley’s soccer team is another perennial contender, while the university garners national attention in baseball, softball and volleyball as well.
The women’s basketball program at Illinois Central College is highly regarded for its six national championships, 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 sports, including baseball, basketball, hockey and more.
With its longstanding tradition of high school basketball, Peoria is the perfect site to host 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 third time in 2018. Peoria’s Detweiller Park has been home to the cross-country state finals for decades, 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 nearby Peoria Heights, the John Gaspar Soccer Academy develops youth soccer players and hosts indoor leagues, while Central Illinois United brings together top area players to compete against the best teams from around the Midwest.
RUNS, RACES, TRACKS & TRAILS
Pre-eminent among the region’s many walks, runs and races is the Steamboat Classic—a premier running event for 45 years, 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 a range of 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.
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 magnificent trail systems in the area. 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