'Shamrock Classic' expected to be a home run


PEORIA — The only high school football team in this part of the state without a permanent home will have a new temporary one for one night next fall.

Notre Dame will play host to Normal West in a Big 12 Conference game at Dozer Park in downtown Peoria on Friday Oct. 2.

Dozer, home to baseball’s Peoria Chiefs of the Class A Midwest League, will be a football venue for the first time in its 13-year history.

Dubbed the “Shamrock Classic,” Chiefs president Rocky Vonachen and ND football head coach Joe Walters were part of a joint news conference on Tuesday afternoon at Dozer.

“We’re excited to bring something other than baseball to downtown Peoria,” Vonachen said. “It should be a unique experience for the fans and the players.”

Vonachen said he got the idea from the West Michigan Whitcaps, a fellow MWL member that has hosted football games for several years.

Vonachen and Notre Dame school principal Randy Simmons are neighbors.

“I was out in the yard one day, saw Randy and asked him what he thought,” Vonachen said. “He liked it right away and the idea took off from there.”

Notre Dame does not have its own football field, and for home game rents Peoria Stadium or Endres Field at Richwoods. A planned new school and athletics facility on Peoria’s north side was put on hold several years ago due to financing.

The game will be Week 6 on the IHSA schedule, which also will be homecoming for Notre Dame.

“I believe Peoria Stadium and Richwoods are being used that night, so that would have bumped us to a Saturday game,” ND’s Walters said. “We’re excited to be playing Friday night downtown in the first football game at Dozer Park.”

Vonachen said the gridiron will be laid out along the third-base line, with one end zone near the left-field wall and the other near the first-base dugout. The infield dirt will remain in place. Goal posts will be fabricated.

Next fall will be the first for the four Peoria schools as football members of the Big 12. ND this past season went undefeated before a loss to Lemont in a Class 6A state semifinal. Normal West won a first-round playoffs game in 6A on the way to an 8-3 finish.

Vonachen said Dozer’s suites and group area will be open, with live action and replays on the video scoreboard.

Tickets will be $6 for adults and $3 for students.

Dozer also is home to the Bradley University baseball team, as well as the IHSA small-class state finals.

Lonnie Schwindenhammer can be reached at 686-3214 or Follow him on Twitter @Schwinlo.