Temperatures in Homewood, Ill., the week of the 2014 8A state title game reached uncommon lows of 16 degrees, with winds gusting as high as 45 miles per hour. One week away from the ultimate prize, the 16 teams remaining in the IHSA playoffs around the state dealt with icy, snowy conditions on their practice fields leading up to the biggest games of their respective lives.
All teams but one.
Tucked away inside their cozy, 137,000-square foot student-athlete facility, the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings spent the vast majority of that week practicing on their 30-by-55-yard indoor football field. They calmly lifted weights inside their 9,000-square foot state-of-the-art fitness center. They diligently watched film of Stevenson, their opponent, in brand new classrooms and wound down inside brand-new locker rooms that had been constructed mere months earlier.
The gold standard for athletic facilities in Illinois resides on the Homewood-Flossmoor campus, and it's been an instrumental tool in constructing one of the state's top football programs.
The project, completed in spring 2014, was the result of nearly a decade of saving, researching and careful planning. The school was helped out in large part by earning a AAA bond rating, one of 69 schools in the country at the time, two months after the renovation began in February 2013. The bond rating improved the school's credit profile, helping it maintain competitive interest rates on financing and not requiring the use of increased taxpayer dollars. Athletic director Dan Vosnos, who arrived at HF two years ago, applauded the work of business manager Ken Parchem for his years of work and planning which allowed the $26 million project to be completed in such financially and timely efficient fashion.
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Walk into the north building on HF's campus and you'll swear you're inside a collegiate field house. Football head coach Craig Buzea has heard from countless college assistants that their facility is the nicest they've seen anywhere in the country. They're not wrong.
The facility was the product of faculty members and coaches touring more than 20 different schools and facilities across the Midwest, researching and pooling together data to better blueprint their own plans on what they hoped would become an athletics center unmatched by any school in Illinois for the next five decades. It was the major piece of a decade-long "strategic facilities plan" that saw the science labs, the school's main auditorium, the TV/radio station and district offices all renovated.
In a little more than a year, construction took an athletic facility built in 1973 and transformed it into a staple of the community and school. Among the amenities? The aforementioned fitness room, locker rooms and indoor football field, four full-size basketball courts, practice rooms for cheerleaders and pom teams, a 200-meter indoor track, a wrestling room, a medical center, a volleyball gymnasium and batting cages for baseball and softball teams. The renovation also included a second turf field outdoors that acts as the home field for the boys and girls soccer teams, as well as the junior-varsity football team.
"It's just a wonderful addition to such a wonderful school," athletic director Dan Vosnos, who gave CSN and Drive an exclusive tour of the facilities, said.
Vosnos also added that feeder teams and park district groups are able to use the facility year-round, offering more local community support from the school to the city of Homewood. Past the athletic teams, the renovation also included the school's main atrium and cafeteria.
And there's more on the horizon. Vosnos said the school will look at renovating the pool area next summer, in addition to other facilities.
"We're still not done yet," he said. "We still have some ideas we're talking about."
As it pertains to the football team, the renovations have been crucial. Thunderstorms threatened to abruptly end the first day of organized practice. Instead, Buzea moved practice indoors, the offense ran 7-on-7 on their indoor field and the defense ran 11-on-0 sets on the school's basketball courts.
The result of rain-or-shine accessibility has been a 4-0 start for the Vikings. Inclement weather postponed many of the games last Friday night. But with the help of the indoor turf field, both the Vikings and Joliet Central Steelmen had time to warm up indoors as they waited out the storms. That allowed the game to start as soon as the all-clear sounded, with both teams warmed up from their time inside.
As is the case for any school, the football stadium lies at the heart of the athletic complex. The Vikings were one of the first teams in the state to install field turf, and both the press boxes and scoreboard have undergone complete renovations that make HF one of the most visually appealing stadiums in Illinois.
"We've sort of taken away a few things from how colleges do it," Buzea said. "We really try to make it not just a football game, but some people come to it just as an event. And we want it to be the event on that Friday night that we host, and because of the facilities that we have it's become that. I think it's made a really nice home-field advantage for us."
Hear more from Vosnos in the video below.