George Huff Hall
Sports: Men’s and Women’s Gymnastics,
Huff Hall, known for creating the circus-like atmosphere that fostered the term “March Madness” when it was the longtime home of the Illinois State High School Association state basketball tournament, is a versatile, multi-use facility that currently serves as the home for the Fighting Illini men's and women's gymnastics, volleyball, and wrestling squads.
Huff Hall is named for longtime Illinois Athletic Director and coach, George Huff. Huff served as Illinois’ Athletic Director from 1901 to 1935, during a time in which the Fighting Illini athletic programs enjoyed unparalleled success. Huff was also the driving force behind the construction of Memorial Stadium in 1923.
Prior to Huff’s tenure as athletic director, he served as head football coach from 1895 to 1899 and baseball skipper from 1896 to 1919. Known by many of his close friends and business associates as “G,” Huff served as manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1907.
Originally called the “New Gymnasium”, Huff Hall was designed in the Georgian-Revival Style by Charles A. Platt and University Architect James M. White. The building’s architecture matches that of the Armory, Main Library, the Union, and other campus buildings. At the conclusion of its $772,000 construction in 1925, Huff Hall replaced the Military Drill Hall (now known as Kenney Gym Annex) as the home for Fighting Illini basketball.
The “New Gymnasium” was renamed Huff Hall in 1937 following the longtime athletic director’s death. Today, the University of Illinois works to honor the hard work and success of Huff with the George Huff award. Every year, this award is given to student-athletes who earn a 3.0 GPA for a full academic year.
Illinois athletics has enjoyed a proud athletic tradition in the gymnasium at Huff Hall. Huff Hall served as home for Illinois basketball from 1925 to 1963, when the Fighting Illini cagers won 339 out of 418 games (.811), eight Big Ten championships and earned two NCAA Final Four appearances. Even though it was more than twice the size of the old Drill Hall where Illinois used to play, it was realized soon after construction that the building was too small to hold all the Illinois fans.
In 1925 a writer for the Illinois Alumni News stated “It seems high time that the Stadium (referring to Memorial Stadium) be roofed over for basketball. We can’t imagine any other way to get in all the customers”. The Illinois basketball team played to raucous capacity crowds for nearly 40 years while at Huff Hall, forcing some fans to wait several years to obtain tickets!
More recently, the Fighting Illini volleyball team won consecutive NCAA attendance titles in 1992 and 1993 in Huff Hall. In 1992, the Fighting Illini broke the NCAA single season attendance record as 52,666 fans packed into the gymnasium at Huff Hall for 17 matches, an average of 3,098 per match.
In return for the strong support, the Fighting Illini Volleyball team has rewarded its fans in recent years with some big wins. In 2003, the team, ranked No. 15 in the country, defeated Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1998.
Nine months later, on September 11, 2004, the Fighting Illini hosted top-ranked, two-time defending national champion USC in the annual State Farm Illini Classic at Huff Hall. After a hard fought, five set match, the Fighting Illini triumphed over the visiting Trojans (30-24, 24-30, 12-30, 30-27, 15-8) ending their NCAA record 52-match winning streak much to the delight of the over 3,000 raucous fans in attendance that night.
Four months later, on January 28th the Fighting Illini wrestling team hosted Iowa in front of 3,573 fans at Huff Hall. The Fighting Illini dominated the defending Big Ten Champions and ninth-ranked Hawkeyes, 25-7. Allowing only two individual match wins by Iowa. The match had a similar feeling to one six years earlier when the same two teams met on Valentine's Day at Huff Hall.
It had been 38 years since an Illinois wrestling squad had defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes came into Huff Hall that evening as the top-ranked defending national champion, having won seven team titles in the last eight years. As the match entered the final weight class the Fighting Illini held a slim 17-16 lead. When the match ended the Fighting Illini’s unranked redshirt-freshman walked off the mat with a 5-4 win over the eighth ranked Hawkeye wrestler, sealing one of the biggest wins in Illinois Wrestling history.
The gymnasium in Huff Hall has hosted its fair share of championships at the collegiate and high school levels over the years. In 1940 and 1947 the Fighting Illini hosted the NCAA National Wrestling Championships at Huff Hall. In 1930, 1933, 1946, 1948, and 1958 the Big Ten Wrestling Championships came to Huff. Not to be outdone, the IHSA used the gymnasium at Huff Hall for nine of its state wrestling tournaments in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, prior to the championships moving down Fourth Street to the Assembly Hall.
Huff Hall also served as host for the 1991, 1995 and 2003 Big Ten Women’s Gymnastics Championships; the 1992, 1995 and 2004 Big Ten Men’s Gymnastics Championships, in addition to being the site of the 1993 and 1999 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics East Regional.
In 1992, Huff Hall hosted the NCAA’s first-round and regional volleyball matches, in 1994 an NCAA’s first-round volleyball match, a 1995 NCAA second-round volleyball match, and the first and second rounds of the 1998, 2001 and 2003 NCAA Volleyball Tournaments. The first and second rounds of the 1997 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament were also played in the gymnasium at Huff Hall.
Huff Hall houses a training room, a weight room, equipment rooms, locker rooms (used by the softball, men’s and women’s track & field, volleyball and wrestling teams), and one squash court, in the basement; as well as many academic offices and classrooms on the first, second and third floors. Additionally, athletes can access the 200-meter indoor track at the Armory via an underground tunnel that connects the two buildings.
In 2002, the women’s locker and squad rooms were completely renovated. While two years later the men’s locker and squad rooms along with the training and weight rooms were fully renovated.
Prior to the renovations in the basement of Huff Hall the gymnasium was remodeled with a new scoreboard, a new sound system and new bleachers as well as improved lighting.
Huff Hall’s gymnasium, located on the first floor, contains enough space for two volleyball practice courts and the volleyball game facility or four basketball courts and a competition court. The gymnasium has a capacity of 3,800 for gymnastics meets, 4,000 for basketball games, and 4,500 for volleyball and wrestling matches.
Creating an intimidating home court advantage for the Fighting Illini, collapsible bleacher seats circle the floor of the gymnasium while permanent balcony seats ring the north, east and west sides of the gymnasium.
Above the North Balcony of Huff Hall is a mural painted by Professor Newton M. Wells entitled “Play” which depicts a football game between the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois, probably from 1910. Chester C. “Bull” Roberts is depicted carrying the ball for the Illini. The mural was originally made for the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank in downtown Champaign, and was bought by the Athletic Association for $300 and relocated to Huff Hall after the closing of the bank in 1930.
Through all of it’s renovations, this historical building, in the heart of the University of Illinois campus, continues to make lasting memories in the hearts and minds of all Fighting Illini fans.
Huff Hall Wrestling Room
As part of the University’s increased commitment to the sport of wrestling, the Fighting Illini wrestlers practice in a refurbished wrestling room located on the third floor of Huff Hall, the same site where home competitions are held. The 6,100-square foot wrestling room, one of the largest in the nation, was renovated in 1992. The room’s south wall contains eight windows that provide natural ventilation. New wall and floor mats were installed in the room prior to the 1992 season. The wrestling room contains the Illinois Wrestling and Officials Association Hall of Fame. A list of its members is displayed on the wall opposite a list of University of Illinois wrestling All-Americans. Pictures of Illinois’ 18 NCAA champions are also on display along the north wall of the room.
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