As first reported this past summer by the Beacon News, this year's East-West game (Jan. 16th) will be moved from West's gym to the 9,100-seat NIU Convocation Center in DeKalb.
The school has held its last three graduations there and school officials hope to take advantage of the expanded capacity for the rivalry game that dates back to 1913 and includes more than 200 meetings. Proposed by West Athletic Director Andy Lutzenkirchen, the contract with the arena was finalized last week when the school board OK'd the move.
Since West's gym only holds 2,200 fans and fewer than 400 West students are likely to get seats for the rivalry game when it's held at home, it's well worth the try to see how the event is received. Kudos to Lutzenkirchen for getting it done. Too bad it couldn't have come together sooner but I think he's right when he says he doesn't think West's slow (1-6) start to the season will have a negative impact on ticket sales.
"East-West goes beyond the won-loss records," he said, knowing full well that when one of the teams is down and pulls off a win in the rivalry game it can make the season.
Reaching the Convo Center from West High is about a 35-minute drive west on Interstate 88.
Playing in the big arena on a college floor (10 feet longer than a prep court) is the main reason veteran West coach Gordie Kerkman agreed to give up a home date to play the game in DeKalb.
This will be only the second time the schools have ever played outside the city of Aurora. In the 1999-2000 season they met for the Neuqua Valley Sectional title after sixth-seeded East upset the third and second seeds to qualify for the final against the top-seeded Blackhawks, who won by 20 points.
Tickets ($5 for adults, $3 for students) will be offered for sale at both schools with each getting half the designated space in the facility's lower bowl. Tickets can also be purchased through Ticketmaster in the upper bowl and walkup sales will be available the day of the game.
West officials plan to have student buses available ($5 apiece) for the event as well as buses for adult fans if there is interest. NIU parking fee for cars is $5.
East coach Wendell Jeffries said school officials haven't had time to organize buses for East fans but hopes it becomes a reality.
Any profit from ticket sales will go to the West district's general fund and Lutzenkirchen said ticket sales of 2,000 will be needed to break even on the event. He hopes the games (6 p.m. frosh-soph, 7:30 p.m. varsity) will draw from 4,000-5,000.
Northern's men's team has a Mid-American Conference game with Eastern Michigan that was originally scheduled for 3 p.m. that day. The start time has been moved up to 1 p.m.
"We would have liked to tie it in with Northern's home game with Ball State and (coach) Billy Taylor," said Lutzenkirchen, "but the date (Feb. 13th) didn't work out."
Taylor is a West High grad who went on to star at Notre Dame.