—-Pekin High School’s Dawdy Hawkins gym during the Pekin Holiday Tournament, boys basketball game between the Bears of Lake Zurich and the Dragons of Pekin, on Dec. 27, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

Central Illinois’ Big Stage

Just south of Peoria is Pekin, a town of 34,000 and Pekin Community High School which has around 1,700 students as of 2020. The school sits on a massive 125 acre campus and includes 550,000 square feet of building space, most notably for many is the Dawdy Hawkins Gym, which has been the site of numerous playoff games from regional to super-sectional games for both boys and girls teams typically from the larger schools in the Central Illinois area. It is also the home court of the Pekin Dragons.

Pekin H.S. Hawkins gym during the Pekin Holiday Tournament, featuring an Illinois varsity high school boys basketball game between the Bears of Lake Zurich and the Dragons of Pekin, on Dec. 27, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

The Scoreboard

The center court scoreboard at Pekin H.S. Hawkins gym, in Pekin on Dec. 27, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

Most players and fans get a little giddy when they see the four-sided scoreboard hanging above center court. Like something out of the NBA pre-1990, Pekin is one of a few dozen schools in the state that have a view-from-all-sides style scoreboard. Like many of the high schools with memorable basketball courts, the tales of championships past line the rafters, prominently placed are the IHSA basketball titles from 1964 & 1967.

Pekin H.S. Hawkins gym has the Dragons’ State Championship banners on prominent display. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)
—-The view fro underneath the center court scoreboard at Pekin H.S. Hawkins gym during the Pekin Holiday Tournament, on Dec. 27, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

Pekin Holiday Tournament

Outside of being the site of playoff basketball, Hawkins Gym is also host to the annual Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament that happens over the winter break. The boys basketball tournament started in 1965 and has featured mostly teams from Illinois, but has in the past 20 years hosted a few out-of-state teams as well.

Most tournaments have a large banner with a bracket of showing who has advanced and while Pekin does have one of those too, a more memorable feature of this tournament is the light-up board with each team on a state map. Games being played or up next in the main bracket blink until the final buzzer. As teams exit the main tournament bracket their light is turned off until there is only one light left for the tournament champion that year.

Pekin H.S. Hawkins gym during the Pekin Holiday Tournament 2021. All of those lights except Mt. Carmel would eventually be turned off. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)
The light switches for the tournament board at Pekin High School’s Hawkins gym during the Pekin Holiday Tournament, on Dec. 27, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

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Illinois’ Best High School Gyms updates (pick one)
Cheerleaders and poms stand along the sidelines of the basketball court before the beginning of Pekin’s game during the Pekin Holiday Tournament, on Dec. 27, 2021. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)
A common sight in central and southern Illinois high school gyms is season ticket seating, this sign at Pekin H.S. Hawkins gym fills guests on where they can sit. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)
The Pekin student section is known as the “Fire Pit” and is not a sight often seen during big game as it is packed with fans. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

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