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St. Joe’s sports tourism focus brings MSHSAA football championships back to Kansas City area

Craig Field at Spratt Stadium Missouri Western MSHSAA football
Posted at 5:39 PM, May 07, 2024

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The Missouri State High School Activities Association hasn’t played an 11-man football championship in the Kansas City area since 1987.

In fact, Missouri’s Class 6 football title game has never taken place in the Kansas City region, because it didn’t exist in 1986 when the big-class title games were last played at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Class 1 champion was crowned a year later at William Jewell, but only 8-man state championships have been played since then anywhere near northwest Missouri.

But that’s going to change in 2025 when all seven state championship football games will be played in St. Joseph at Missouri Western’s Spratt Stadium.

“It is exciting, I think, for every coach in Kansas City to know that you can be closer to home,” Rockhurst football coach Kelly Donohoe said. “I think for all of us that’s a little more motivation, right? It’s kind of in our backyard. ‘Let’s make sure we do everything we can to try to get there.’”

MSHSAA’S six 11-man state championship games will remain at Mizzou’s Memorial Stadium for one more season before moving to Spratt Stadium from 2025-28 — and perhaps beyond.

“The timing was right to bring the games to St. Joseph and we hope those games live here for those five years and beyond,” said Brett Esely, who serves as executive director for the St. Joseph Sports Commission. “It’s something that we foresee here for a very, very long time.”

The St. Joe Sports Commission was founded in the late 1990s, but went dormant for a few decades before Esely revived it in January 2022.

Sports tourism has become an increasingly important boost for the town’s economy.

St. Joe has hosted Chiefs training camp every summer — except 2020 — since 2010, but it’s niche is more focused on high school, small-college and youth sports events.

“We don’t have to be a major vacation capital of the world,” Esely said. “Certainly, it’s not sunny and 80 (degrees) here every day, but it doesn’t have to be to be a great host. We focus heavily on hospitality. We want our visitors to know when they come here — we know you’re here, we know why you’re here and we want that experience to be excellent.”

The last two NCAA Division II women’s basketball championships have been played at Civic Arena in St. Joe, which will host the MSHSAA state volleyball championships from 2025-27.

The city also staged its first marathon last September, drawing entrants from more than 30 states.

Donohoe has high hopes for Spratt as a state-title game venue. It seats roughly 10,000 fans, making it a perfect size for high-level high school football in the state.

“The problem is, if you put 10,000 to 12,000 people at Columbia or at Springfield, it still doesn’t feel packed,” Donohoe said. “Now, you take it to Missouri Western, it’s going to feel packed. ... It’s just about the atmosphere and the experience for a team and players.”