A Touchdown for Community

“What a kickoff!”

“Wow! Peoria has never had anything like this before.”

“Choose Greater Peoria has put together a show of community pride like no other.”

On Monday, August 14, 2023, the region came together in unprecedented fashion to celebrate Choose Greater Peoria’s brand-new partnership with ESPN Chicago and the Chicago Bears Radio Network. For one afternoon, the “Greater Peoria Tailgater” transformed the Peoria riverfront into a festive feast of sports, food, live performance and community spirit.

What better way to kick off the football season? It was, quite simply, the greatest pre-season party ever!


The block-style party started at noon as the first wave of excited Peorians made their way down to the riverfront. Nearly a dozen food trucks and vendors were on hand to greet them with a smorgasbord of delectable treats and drinks. There were yard games, painted football fields, a mini NFL combine for guests to try their skills and other family-friendly activities. On this gorgeous sunny day, a refreshing breeze took the edge off one of the hottest summers in memory.

Broadcasting live from the Sun Plaza of the Peoria Riverfront Museum was the renowned duo of Tom Waddle and Marc “Silvy” Silverman, co-hosts of ESPN Chicago’s “Waddle & Silvy” show. The two radio stars broke down the Bears’ first preseason game alongside special guests including former Bears guard Tom Thayer — member of the legendary 1985 Super Bowl team — and longtime play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak, who described the riverfront setting as “idyllic.”

Nearby, area youth showcased their talents for the crowd — from high school marching bands, cheerleaders and football teams to student-athletes from Bradley University, Eureka College and Illinois Central College. A troupe of adorable kids from Coach Bre Cottage Cheerleading & Dance Company shook pom-poms and showed off their moves as a sideline of proud parents stood by beaming. “What a fun day!” Coach Bre exclaimed. “It was a pep rally, and we brought the spirit!”

The performances continued into the evening, culminating with a show from the five-piece party band Top 4D — a sensational finale to a day like no other.


In one sense, the Tailgater was all about football and the optimism at the outset of any new season. But more importantly, the event was a genuine expression of community in Greater Peoria.

Dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals worked hard to make it a success. The kids played games and met new friends. Parents bonded and connected with one another. Even rival teams cheered each other on! The diversity of participants was the day’s biggest win — as some 3,000 people of all ages, races, colors and abilities came together to demonstrate the beauty of a rich and diverse community.

Laura Cullinan was awestruck to watch the community come together like this. As president of the Gilmore Foundation, she spearheaded efforts to bring the Tailgater to Peoria — just one element of the growing Choose Greater Peoria movement. “To have 3,000 attend on a Monday is incredible, and a testament to our people… kids and families from all zip codes and backgrounds cheering each other on and lifting us all up,” she remarked.

And that’s what Choose Greater Peoria is all about. Launched in May 2023, the initiative has blossomed into a movement of community pride and positivity. “Peoria deserves nice things,” declared Illinois State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, who was also instrumental in organizing the event. “The best is yet to come. It will continue to get greater!”


While the preseason tailgate party is over, Choose Greater Peoria’s partnership with ESPN Chicago and the Chicago Bears Radio Network is just getting started. Throughout the 2023-24 season, the ESPN radio hosts will be discussing the Greater Peoria region, its unique amenities and quality of life no less than four times each game. This promises to bring even more visibility to the Choose Greater Peoria movement, encouraging listeners from all over the Midwest to pay a visit — and perhaps even move here to take advantage of the region’s low cost of living and high quality of life. Scroll through photos from the event below — and follow Choose Greater Peoria on Facebook and LinkedIn to keep up on this long-term community initiative.