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Official Review by Gregory Priebe, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Huff Hall was known as Huff Gymnasium until the 1990s. The building is named after George Huff, a former major league baseball manager (Boston Americans which later became the Boston Red Sox) and University of Illinois Athletic Director.
Huff Hall is home to the University of Illinois Fighting Illini volleyball and wrestling teams. From 1925-1963 it was home to the school’s basketball teams before the opening of the State Farm Center (then known as the Assembly Hall) in 1963. The Illinois High School Association boys' basketball tournament was also played here before moving out as well (now played in Peoria, after moving from Champaign in 1995).
Recent renovations have included new office spaces, some new bleachers and a floor designed purely for volleyball in mind. It also added a few new spaces to the old venue.
The University of Illinois volleyball program is one of the strongest in the nation. Playing in the very strong Big Ten Conference, the Illini are one of the stalwarts of the conference.
Coach Kevin Hambly has been at Illinois since 2004 (since 2009 as head coach). In his time as the head man, the team has had more than twice as many wins as losses. In 2011 they were the NCAA Runners-up to UCLA, and swept the season series with four-time defending national champions Penn State.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is a concession stand inside the arena itself. Sitting in a corner, it offers very light refreshments. Hot dogs are on sale with popcorn for $3. Coca-Cola branded soft drinks are available for $4. A Dippin' Dots kiosk is also on hand for some frozen treats.
The atmosphere is where this aged venue shines. It is loud. It is an intimidating venue for an extremely good volleyball team. Even the best teams in the country may falter when faced by the volume of this venue. On Saturday, October 4, 2014 the school even hosted an event during a volleyball match called "IlliNOISE Night" where the crowd would attempt to be the loudest volleyball venue in the United States. The 4,536 in attendance that night hit 105 decibels in between the first and second sets against Wisconsin.
The seats are generally pretty old. And I mean OLD. Frankly the wooden seats were not designed for modern bodies. They are uncomfortable and offer little legroom. There are also quite a few obstructed view seats. But strangely enough these quirks make the building even more special.
A very small classroom building style hallway surrounds most of the arena.
The neighborhood closest to the stadium is mostly made up of dorms and academic buildings, not to mention high quality athletic facilities.
A very short walk away is the area along Green and Wright Streets called "Campustown." There are many bars, shops and restaurants in this area, and they tend to cater to young college students.
Older fans will want to center their post game activities around downtown Champaign. Once a pretty boring downtown area, one will now find many bars and restaurants. The Esquire Lounge is a local icon and should be a stop for everyone. Try a pork chop sandwich and say hi to owner Pedro.
Other great downtown spots are Derailed 57, Blind Pig Brewery, the gastropub DESTIHL, sports bar Jupiter's, and Farren's Pub & Eatery (at a very hidden location at 308 N Randolph Street).
There is also a much larger version of Jupiter's on the outskirts of Champaign (2511 Village Green Place at The Crossing Center) that is also a good choice. If visiting that second Jupiter's location also try Billy Balooz right next door (2521 Village Green Place at The Crossing Center).
Downtown Champaign has another wonderful new addition with a Hyatt Place hotel. Stay here and you can easily walk to all the great establishments of the area. A shuttle to games is available for a nominal fee from here as well.
Urbana is a bit slower pace kind of town. But there are three places that jump out as must visits. Black Dog Smoke & Ale House (201 N Broadway Ave, Urbana) offers amazing barbecue, but expect to wait in line to get in and the tasty burnt ends will go quickly. Crane Alley (115 W Main St #1, Urbana) is a nice bar with some great beers, and Masijta Grill (202 N Race St, Urbana) is a great Korean barbecue.
The University of Illinois is known as a basketball school. The football team has not seen consistent success for over 60 years. So it is no surprise that the successful volleyball team is probably the second most loved team on campus.
The fans pack this venue for all games. They are the reason this building is so loud. They know and understand volleyball, and help to elevate this experience into a very special one.
Champaign and Urbana are both easy cities to navigate. Huff Hall is not located close to a major highway, but most roads leading to the area will be four lane ones.
A grass lot next to Huff Hall is free for parking, but will fill quickly. You can also look for meter spaces and garage parking near the venue. Park far enough away you could probably find a nice free space, it just depends on how far you wish to walk.
Champaign-Urbana is at the crossroads of I-57 and I-74, as well as being the eastern terminus for I-72, so getting to the area from Chicago, Indianapolis and points west will be pretty easy.
Parking is free. Tickets are $5 for general admission and $7 for reserved seats. Youth can get in for $2. The prices are incredibly reasonable and that means that you get a great value for your money. A portable ticket booth is located outside the main/west entrance.
Check out the wooden seats that could only come from a venue opened in 1925. You will never see seats such as those in a newer facility. That is a good thing, but these are still part of history.
The hallways of Huff exude history. This is an old building that has quite a bit of life still in it. Stop and look around.
There are often temporary tables set up in the arena, just north of the playing surface for clubs and college activities to show off their activities. You should be able to pick up a free poster or other souvenir at these tables.
A small souvenir stand is also located inside the arena itself.
The University of Illinois has a volleyball team that plays at a high level. They also play at a historic venue that should be a destination spot on its own.
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