State Farm Holiday Classic

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The State Farm Holiday Classic, named after the title sponsor State Farm Insurance, is one of the largest co-ed, high school holiday basketball tournaments in the United States, with 64 teams (32 boys and 32 girls). Held annually for four days following Christmas and dubbed "The Best Basketball This Side of March", the Classic is held at numerous college and high-school venues throughout Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. Event dates for 2015 will be December 28–31.


For over three decades, the Holiday Classic has been a showcase of talent and basketball in Bloomington-Normal. The 2015 tournament will be the 37th anniversary for one of the nation's largest coed high school holiday basketball tournaments.

The Classic was originated in 1975 and was first called the Illinois State Classic. Normal Community High School was crowned the first boys champion by defeating Chicago Brother Rice, 60-51. Over the next 10 years (through 1985), Lincoln would play in the championship game four times (winning twice) and Galesburg would win four championships, including three straight titles from 1981-83. In the beginning, the Classic field consisted of a combination of 16 Class A (small school) and Class AA (large school) teams, from all over the state including all four intercity schools. The Classic took a break from 1986 through 1989, but came back in 1990 and was known as the University High Classic. Sherrard was crowned the champ in 1990, and two years later Gridley became the first Class A school to slay the giants and walk away as champion of the Holiday Classic.

In 1995, the Classic turned down the road that would eventually lead it to the event as it is known today. A community volunteer group, spearheaded by current tournament president Dan Highland, took over all duties and responsibilities for the tournament. This group, then known as the Classic Organizing Group, Inc. (COG), consisted of leaders from all aspects of the Bloomington-Normal community. The tournament was then called the Bloomington-Normal Holiday Classic, and later took on Converse as its title sponsor in 1996 and 1997. Major changes implemented at the time included having 32 participating boys’ teams, and breaking the field into two 16-team sections (Class A and Class AA to mirror the IHSA state tournament). All teams would be guaranteed three games, and those teams which won all three games would come back on the fourth and final day to determine a champion in each class in the morning. The night session would consist of the two losing teams playing against each other for third place, while the two champs went head to head for the title of Grand Champion. Rockford Boylan won the first Grand Championship game in 1995, defeating Bloomington Central Catholic 74-63. The next year saw Manito Midwest Central, led by Ryan Knuppel, become the second Class A team to win the Classic by defeating Boylan, 64-58, in one of the most exciting games in tournament history.

The Classic also took on a different twist in 1995 by hosting an 8-team girls' shootout. This shootout evolved into a 14-team tournament in 1997, and is now a full-fledged 32-team tournament, mirroring the boys tournament format. Galesburg was the first girls Grand Champion in 1997, by overcoming a 17-point deficit and winning a 77-74 thriller over Class A Mendota on a last-second three-pointer by Jaque Howard. Galesburg won the first three Grand Championships (1997, 98 & 99) and had a winning streak of 16 games, before being defeated by Urbana in 2000. That same year, Rock Island Alleman became the only Class A team, and the only team other than Galesburg, to win the girls Grand Championship.

In 1999, the Classic got a big shot in the arm with the announcement of State Farm Insurance as its Title Sponsor. The State Farm Holiday Classic, as it is known today, was able to implement a variety of enhancements thanks to this support, and still continues to find new ways to be the best tournament in the nation. By now the event was starting to gain national recognition, and that included adding teams from across the country to its tournament field. After testing the waters with a team from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1996, the Classic has seen teams participate from Washington, D.C.; Kentucky; Tennessee; Ohio; Indiana; Florida; Mesa, AZ; Missouri, Pittsburgh, PA; and New Orleans, LA.

In 2001, the COG, now known as the Classic Tournament, Inc., experimented with eliminating the cross-over Grand Championship game and crowning two girls’ champions, one in each class. The experiment worked so well that the same idea was implemented into the boys’ tournament in 2002. By this time, the Grand Championship game had become somewhat anti-climatic for the fans and teams alike, as many times the Class AA teams were too overpowering for the smaller schools. With the new system in place, all teams are now guaranteed four games and championship night has been revived to the point where near capacity Shirk Center crowds are able to witness four consecutive championship games.

Over the years the Classic has seen its share of great individual performances. In 1985, Rockton Hononegah's Jim Shikenjanski averaged nearly 33 points a game, and pulled down 66 rebounds over the course of the tournament. Eight years later in 1993, Mike Robinson of Peoria Richwoods knocked down 18 field goals in one game, while in 1999 Rock Island Alleman's Tyler Ryan killed 9 three-pointers for a tournament record. In 1996, Joey Range from Galesburg wowed the crowd with a tournament record 55 points in one game, while Normal U-High's Jeremy Stanton delivered an unselfish 18 assists in one game. And of course who could forget watching the man-child, Eddy Curry, go from signing autographs in the Shirk Center bleachers to a first round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls right out of South Holland Thornwood. Yet maybe the crowning individual achievement was when Olney East Richland’s Brittany Johnson became Illinois’ all-time career (girls or boys) prep hoops scoring leader in the second round of the 2006 tournament, breaking the record on a three-point play in the third quarter.

With the Classic becoming more successful, it looked for ways to give back the community and increase its philanthropic efforts. In 2002, local Special Olympics Illinois basketball teams were given the chance to participate in a one-day shootout at the Shirk Center on Championship Day of the tournament. These teams then had the chance to participate in an 8 minute exhibition during halftime of the championship games that night on the Shirk Center floor. This effort proved to be very popular among the full-house crowd in attendance, as well as the players who experienced this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The shootout has continued each year, and in 2005 it was renamed the Ron Knisley Memorial Special Olympics shootout after the long-time committee member and huge Classic supporter, who was also Director of Sports and Competition for Special Olympics Illinois.

In 2006, the first recipients of the Holiday Classic Foundation Scholarships were awarded in an effort to give back to graduating seniors who participated in the Holiday Classic and were extending their educational careers at four-year universities or colleges. To date, the Classic Foundation has awarded $36,000.00 in scholarships to deserving student-athletes.

All of these changes and enhancements over the years have led thousands of fans to discover what we know today as "The Best Basketball This Side Of March!"

The Best of the best Over the years the Holiday Classic has seen its share of great teams and players. Here is just a sample of those players:

NBA players:

WNBA players:

Illinois Mr. Basketball award winners:

  • Brian Cook (Lincoln) - 1999
  • Eddy Curry (Thornwood) - 2001
  • Chasson Randle (Rock Island) - 2011

McDonald's All-Americans:

  • Eddy Curry in 2001 (Thornwood)
  • Kayla Pedersen in 2007 (Mesa Red Mountain)
  • Mike Robinson in 1996 (Richwoods High School)

NCAA Final Four participants:

Illinois' all-time leading scorer:

  • Brittany Johnson became Illinois’ all-time prep career scorer (male or female) during the second round of the 2006 State Farm Holiday Classic. Played four seasons for The Ohio State University women's basketball team. (East Richland Community Unit School District 1)

NFL players:

Major League Baseball/minor league players:

  • Kevin Roberson (Eisenhower High School (Decatur, Illinois)) played in the MLB from 1993-96 with the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.
  • Zach McAllister (Illinois Valley Central High School) was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2006 and traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2010 where he made his major league debut on July 7, 2011 vs. the Toronto Blue Jays
  • Robbie Minor (Rock Falls) played one season (2007) in the New York Yankees minor league system, and the 2008 season for the Gateway Grizzlies in the Frontier League
  • Jakob Junis (Rock Falls) was drafted in the 29th round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals
  • Tyson Blaser (Taylor Ridge Rockridge) signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees in 2011 and currently plays for their Gulf Coast League affiliate

U.S. Olympians:

  • Ogonna Nnamani member of the 2004 and 2008 United States Olympic women's volleyball team (Normal U-High)

Professional soccer players:

  • Ashlee Pistorius won the Honda Sports Award in 2008 as the nation’s top collegiate soccer player at Texas A&M, and played for the Boston Renegades of the USL W-League (Normal U-High)

All-Quarter-century team[edit]

In 2003, fans had a chance to vote on the most outstanding performers in the 25-year history of the tournament. The following team was chosen:

  • Brian Cook, Lincoln | 315 votes
  • Eddy Curry, Thornwood | 271 votes
  • Joey Range, Galesburg | 216 votes
  • Gregg Alexander, Lincoln | 143 votes
  • Robbie Minor, Rock Falls | 126 votes
  • Damir Krupaliga, Rockford Boylan | 121 votes

Past boys' champions[edit]

Note: Starting in 2002, the Grand Championship game was eliminated and two champions, one in each class, were crowned.

Past Grand Champions[edit]

  • 1975 Normal Community
  • 1976 LaSalle-Peru
  • 1977 Lincoln
  • 1978 East Moline
  • 1979 Galesburg
  • 1980 Lincoln
  • 1981 Galesburg
  • 1982 Galesburg
  • 1983 Galesburg
  • 1984 Decatur Eisenhower
  • 1985 Normal Community
  • 1986
  • 1987
  • 1988
  • 1989
  • 1990 Sherrard
  • 1991 Normal UHigh
  • 1992 Gridley
  • 1993 Peoria Richwoods
  • 1994 East Peoria
  • 1995 Rockford Boylan
  • 1996 Manito Midwest Central
  • 1997 Galesburg
  • 1998 Rockford Boylan
  • 1999 South Holland Thornwood
  • 2000 South Holland Thornwood
  • 2001 South Holland Thornwood

Past Small School Boys Champions[edit]

2002 Quincy Notre Dame
2003 Lagrange Keystone, Ohio
2004 Quincy Notre Dame
2005 Hartsburg-Emden
2006 Bloomington Central Catholic
2007 Bloomington Central Catholic
2008 Peoria Christian
2009 Minonk Fieldcrest
2010 Rock Falls
2011 Quincy Notre Dame
2012 Rockford Lutheran
2013 Rockford Lutheran 2014 Rockford Lutheran

Past Large School Boys Champions[edit]

2002 South Holland Thornwood
2003 Chicago Prosser
2004 Mt. Zion
2005 South Holland Thornwood
2006 South Holland Thornwood
2007 Rockton-Hononegah
2008 Normal Community
2009 Champaign Centennial
2010 Peoria Notre Dame
2011 Normal Community
2012 North Chicago
2013 North Chicago 2014 Normal Community

Past Girls Champions[edit]

Note: Starting in 2001, the Grand Championship game was eliminated and two champions, one in each class, were crowned.

Past Grand Champions[edit]

1997 Galesburg
1998 Galesburg
1999 Galesburg
2000 Rock Island Alleman

Past Small School Girls Champions[edit]

2001 Seneca
2002 Normal UHigh
2003 Bloomington Central Catholic
2004 Rock Island Alleman
2005 Chicago John Hope
2006 Olney East Richland
2007 Rochester
2008 Bloomington Central Catholic
2009 Bloomington Central Catholic
2010 Bloomington Central Catholic
2011 El Paso-Gridley
2012 Champaign St. Thomas More
2013 Champaign St. Thomas More 2014 Rochester

Past Large School Girls Champions[edit]

2001 Geneseo
2002 Peoria Richwoods
2003 Normal Community
2004 Peoria Richwoods
2005 Peoria Richwoods
2006 Bolingbrook
2007 Chicago John Hope
2008 Peoria Richwoods
2009 Springfield
2010 Springfield
2011 Park Ridge Maine South
2012 Champaign Centennial
2013 Springfield 2014 Normal University

State Farm Holiday Classic Scholarship Award[edit]

In 2006 the Classic Tournament, Inc., the nonprofit corporation which runs the largest co-ed high school holiday basketball tournament in the nation, selected four winners to be the first-ever recipients of the Holiday Classic Scholarship Award. Each winner received a $1,000 scholarship to go directly to their college of choice to help pay for tuition costs.

Established to recognize and award scholarships to eligible high school seniors who participated in this past year’s event, a selection committee chooses a male and female winner from each of the Small School and Large School brackets.

Holiday Classic Scholarship recipients:

  • Alexa Adams - Belvidere North (2014)
  • Rebekah Ehresman - El Paso-Gridley (2014)
  • Michael Plecki - Champaign St. Thomas-More (2014)
  • Trey Sigel - Rock Island (2014)
  • Bradley Dulee, Normal U-High (2013)
  • Lauren Frank, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (2013)
  • Cole Hasselbring, Cissna Park (2013)
  • Megan O’Donnell, Bloomington Central Catholic (2013)
  • Brian Ehresman - El Paso-Gridley (2012)
  • Paige Lobdell - Sterling (2012)
  • Annie O’Malley - Bloomington Central Catholic (2012)
  • Patrick Walsh - Lombard Glenbard East (2012)
  • Nickolena Coop - Downs Tri-Valley (2011)
  • Blake Doane - Quincy Notre Dame (2011)
  • Kayla Moore - Sterling Newman (2011)
  • Ryan Schmidt - Bloomington Central Catholic (2011)
  • Kevin Bischoff – Normal Community (2010)
  • Rachael Graham – St. Joseph-Ogden (2010)
  • Erin McGinnis – Normal West (2010)
  • Andrew Sipes – Grayslake Central (2010)
  • Kristen Baldwin, Normal Community (2009)
  • Luke Harbers, Normal University (2009)
  • Cora Jeffers, Williamsville (2009)
  • Ross Munsterman, Crescent-Iroquois (2009)
  • Brandi Branka, Kankakee Bishop Mac (2008)
  • Andrew Etheridge, Normal Community (2008)
  • Kati Hinshaw, Normal West (2008)
  • Randall Koehler, Roanoke-Benson (2008)
  • Samantha Reich, Park Ridge Maine South (2008)
  • Jack Hainline, Stanford Olympia (2007)
  • Patrick Doggett, Crescent Iroquois (2007)
  • Kimberly White, Olney East Richland (2007)
  • Matt Pelton, Bloomington Central Catholic (2006)
  • Cherelle Gay, Bloomington (2006)
  • Jordan Christensen, Sherrard (2006)
  • Taylor Baucom, Camp Point Central (2006)

Ron Knisley Memorial Special Olympics Shootout[edit]

On October 13, 2005, the Classic Tournament Inc. lost a very special and vital part of this event when Ron Knisley, Director of Sports and Competition for Special Olympics Illinois lost his battle to cancer. That year, the tournament decided to name the Special Olympics portion of the State Farm Holiday Classic after the man who was responsible for bringing the two groups together.

The shootout, which brings in area Special Olympics Illinois (SOI) basketball teams as part of championship day at the annual State Farm Holiday Classic basketball tournament, is now known as the Ron Knisley Memorial Special Olympics Shootout. The Shootout traditionally invites six teams who play games on the final day of the tournament on practice courts at the Shirk Center. Then, each of the teams is featured during half-time of the championship games on the final night of the tournament in an 8-minute, running clock exhibition on the main floor.

Past participants in the Shootout include teams from the following programs:

  • Beardstown
  • Bloomington SOAR
  • Bradley-Bourbonnais High School
  • Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation
  • Decatur Park District
  • Eastern Illinois Special Olympics
  • Jacksonville Pathway
  • Lincoln Park District
  • Lincolnway
  • Neuwohner (MO)
  • Pekin IRVSRA
  • Peoria Heart of Illinois
  • Pontiac Futures
  • Princeton Gateway Services
  • Rushville
  • Springfield
  • Thornwood

External links[edit]