Larry Whittet ’78 got his first look at his family’s seats in the new Hancock Stadium on Wednesday at sunset, giving him beautiful views of West Campus and, through the indoor club behind him, the rest of the University.

Most of all, he could see how far Illinois State has come.

“I’m so proud of this University. The leadership we’ve had—we’ve been very fortunate,” Whittet said, looking out onto the lighted field. “I’m truly overwhelmed.”

Whittet was among more than 350 Illinois State fans, alumni, staff, and donors invited to Hancock Stadium’s dedication Wednesday night. The Redbirds will open the home portion of the schedule this Saturday, when they host Abilene Christian at 6 p.m. Tickets are still available.

Wednesday’s guests were able to get their first inside glimpse of the renovation on the east side of the complex—a “$26 million masterpiece,” as dedication emcee Steve Adams put it. The project included bleacher-back seating on the entire new east-side grandstand; a wide, spacious concourse featuring new concession and restroom facilities; premium seating options, including a 5,500-square-foot indoor Hancock Stadium Club accessible to club seat holders; seven private suites; and a state-of-the-art press level.

Illinois State President Timothy J. Flanagan honored Hancock’s 50-year history in his remarks before praising the vision of past and present University leaders who led the fundraising, design, and construction. He also thanked students, donors, and alumni for their contributions to the project—and then went on to predict a Redbird victory on Saturday, unlike the stadium’s first opening day back in 1963.

“What a terrific welcoming gift. Thank you, Dr. Bowman,” joked Flanagan, who arrived on campus as the University’s 18th president only in August, succeeding longtime leader Al Bowman.

Head football coach Brock Spack said his players are thrilled with their new home and that it gives the team greater home-field advantage. He also stressed the positive impact it will have on recruiting.

“We ask (recruits) to commit their mind, their heart, body, and spirit, and now when I make that speech … I can point to this beautiful facility and our players will know now this campus, and Bloomington-Normal, supports them,” Spack said. “This structure will show our recruits beyond any doubt that we have a commitment to winning football at Illinois State.”

Athletics Director Larry Lyons ’86 thanked a long roster of Athletics staffers who made the new Hancock a reality and gave the University and town of Normal a new “gateway” entrance in which to be proud.

“From this day forward, when we talk about the far-reaching impact of gifts to our department, we will point to this building,” Lyons said. “You have raised the bar, but are we are not done.”

Check out more photos from the Hancock Stadium dedication:

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Ryan Denham can be reached at