- 1206 S. 4th Street
- Champaign, IL 61820
- (217) 244-9755
Even if you’ve never been to the University of Illinois and you’ve never heard of Huff Hall, you are quite familiar with a term that was coined during the days when the IHSA boys state basketball championships played in the gym. It’s actually pretty fitting that I’m writing about this right now. The term “March Madness” is a term that was trademarked by the IHSA after a court battle that also gave the NCAA a right to trademark the term. The IHSA still claims to have invented the term and they own the sole trademark to the phrase “America’s Original March Madness” which is how they bill their tournament these days
The phrase “March Madness” was first used in 1939 to describe the state basketball championships that were held at Huff Gymnasium. The layout and design of the building made it loud and when the place was full, it was deafening. If you’ve ever watched an IHSA small schools game, you know how loud it can get.
Huff Hall was built in 1925 as a multi-purpose gymnasium named after George Huff who was the school’s athletic director from 1895 to 1935. It’s a 4,500 seat arena with a permanent upper deck and retractable bleachers in the lower area. Like Michigan State’s Jenison Fieldhouse, Huff Hall is the home of the U of I’s volleyball, wrestling, and gymnastics teams.
I was in town for the Big Ten Women’s Gymnastics Championships. For this event, all spectator seating was in the upper bowl. The seating was sectioned off so each school had their own area. Illinois took up the whole endzone area and it became obvious very quickly why the IHSA called their tournament “March Madness.” It’s loud. Very loud. I was working with two former Olympians who said they had never been involved in any gymnastics meet anywhere where the crowd was deafening.
All the apparatus and teams were on the floor which is permanently painted for volleyball, but once you start putting the mats and equipment over the hardwood floor, you can’t even tell.
The concession areas are on the main floor kind of along the wall. There is no hallways connected to the upper deck. You go up a flight of stairs and come out in the seating area, so for all events, they set up portable concession stands near the entry doors. They sell Coke products and all the usual sporting event foods.
Unfortunately, MSU didn’t fare so well at this tournament. They ended up in the middle of the pack. I made a comment when I reviewed Jenison about how dang loud it got during a wrestling meet. Huff would probably be louder, but only because it’s a more confined space. They have a separate building for their indoor track across the street. If you’re a fan of one of the sports that would play in this old building, it would be worth a road trip.