With six professional teams in five major sports, and an abundance of athletic clubs throughout the state, Illinois has established itself as a sporting paradise.

Those aforementioned professional squads (the Chicago Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs, White Sox and Fire) all ply their trade in the Chicagoland area, but they are hardly the only games in town. Entertaining sporting competitions unfold in every corner of Illinois, and those seeking an alternative to major team sport competitions can find plenty of unadulterated diversions for little to no cost.

Here are some lesser-publicized events to look forward to when 2017 winds down and 2018 gears up.

Bicycle Racing

The Bloomington Criterium is a series of high-speed bicycle races that take place on the streets of historic downtown Bloomington, a city that resides 140 miles south of Chicago. Held each August, this one-day signature event has competed in Bloomington since 2013 and is known among cyclists as “the toughest race in central Illinois.” The race unfolds on a short course and is held on blocked-off city streets. The course is typically less than 5 kilometers and is a closed circuit where riders complete multiple laps. The Criterium attracts hundreds of racers across the country and provides spectators with an up-close look at some of the finest athletes in the sport.


Southland cornhole

Lynwood, a village near the Illinois and Indiana border, will host the 13th season of the American Cornhole Organization’s Chicago Southland Major on May 25 and 26, 2018. Similar to horseshoes, cornhole is a game in which players take turns throwing bags of corn (or bean bags) at a raised platform containing a hole in the far end. Contestants pitch their bags at the platform until the winner scores 21 points. Onlookers will be astounded with the talent and accuracy cornhole competitors display in their quest for a victory.

Division III Athletics

Located 107 miles west of Chicago, Rockford will host three Division III championships in 2018. In March, the city will entertain the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Women’s Basketball Championship, giving patrons the chance to watch talented hoopsters battle for a title. In May, the 2018 USA Ultimate Division III College Championships will descend upon the area. Originally known as ultimate frisbee, Ultimate is a non-contact team sport played with a flying disc (frisbee). Points are scored by passing the disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone. The NJCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship will hit town in November.

Dragon Boat Racing

Southland Dragon Boat

Dragon Boat Racing is an event believed to have originated in China more than 2,500 years ago, but has been celebrated in Illinois for the better part of the past two decades. The sport involves 20 team members paddling in unison to a drummer’s beat in a long, narrow boat decorated at the bow and stern with a dragon’s tail and head.

During the second weekend of June, St. Charles, a city that lies 40 miles west of Chicago, hosts the popular Festival of the Fox, whose centerpiece is the Dragon Boat Racing event that transpires on the Fox River. Each July, Arlington Heights, a village 25 miles northwest of Chicago’s downtown, holds the Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival, a celebration that features 30 Dragon Boat teams from the Midwest competing on Lake Arlington. Blue Island, a city located approximately 16 miles south of Chicago’s Loop, hosts a Dragon Boat Festival in June at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Waterfall Park along the historic Calumet-Sag Channel.

Equestrian Jumping

Balmoral Park

Balmoral Park, the former historic harness racing track in Crete, a village 35 miles south of Chicago, re-opened in 2017 as a reinvented, state-of-the-art equestrian show jumping venue. Featuring nine competition rings, with five set up for hunters (a classic form of forward seat riding) and four for jumpers, horses put on a show as they jump over fences with crossbars and maneuver through a number of obstacles. In 2018, visitors will enjoy the show from 4,467- seat grandstand from May until September and watch these magnificent animals entertain.

Grand National TT Championship

The longest consecutive-running dirt track race in the world, the Grand National TT Championship is considered the Indy 500 of motorcycle flat track racing. Peoria, a city 165 miles southwest of Chicago, has hosted this event for the past 71 years, featuring high-flying action in which riders jump motorcycles as far as 130 feet down the track. The races run throughout summer and fall at the Peoria Motorcycle Club.

IFC Fall Cup

The Dodds Sports Complex in Champaign (135 miles south of Chicago), will host the Illinois Futbol Club Fall Cup, a competition that attracts 225 youth soccer teams from across the country. The cup will feature boys and girls between the ages of 8-18 competing for tournament glory from Sept. 28-30, 2018.

Steamboat Classic

For 44 years, runners from around the world have traveled to Peoria every summer for the Steamboat Classic running event. The classic is an equal-opportunity athletic competition, welcoming walkers, joggers and runners of all ages and ability levels. The competition is famous for being one of the world’s fastest four-mile runs while the 15K is regarded as Illinois’ toughest because of the course’s hilly terrain. Participants can also compete in a less rugged two-mile contest.

United States Bowling Congress Women’s Championship

Bowling zealots will have to wait a few years for this event, but in 2021, the United States Bowling Congress Women’s Championships will return to Chicago for the first time since 1935. Addison, a city 21 miles west of Chicago, will host the tournament that is expected to welcome more than 32,000 competitors and visitors and will feature some of the nation’s top female bowlers.