The Illinois Masonic Tournament is an annual tournament sponsored by the Illinois Freemasons. It is a statewide tournament, and is generally regarded as one of the three state championship tournaments in Illinois (with IHSA State and the newer Illinois NAQT State being the other two). While the tournament began as a regional tournament in 1983, it did not develop a statewide draw until 1990, so while older than the IHSA Tournament, it did not become a state tournament until after the IHSA Tournament had been established.
The Masonic Tournament has largely been fraught with some of the same problems as the IHSA State Tournament (bad distribution, poor questions, geographic representation, a bad format). In recent years, question quality has improved thanks largely to the work of Donald Taylor who worked with the Masons to institute change, and David Reinstein who has taken over as head question writer and editor. The Masonic Tournament is unique in its format, and in awarding cash prizes to top teams.
The roots of the tournament can be traced to 1982 when the principals of Byron, Stillman Valley, and Winnebago High Schools met with a representative of the Winnebago Masonic Lodge to create the Northern Illinois Academic Bowl (the first invitational tournament in northern Illinois). The first tournament, with 16 teams taken from Boone, Carroll, Ogle, Stephenson, and Winnebago counties, was held in the Spring of 1983. Stillman Valley defeated Winnebago in the finals to win the first tournament. Hosting duties rotated between Byron, Stillman Valley, and Winnebago for the first five years, though the field of invited teams began to expand beyond the initial counties. By 1987, the tournament was expanded to all teams in northern Illinois, and in 1988, it was renamed the Illinois Masonic Academic Bowl. 1988 was also the first time that the tournament was not held at a single site, with the winners of the western and eastern sites meeting for a championship. In 1989, two southern Illinois sectionals were added, though downstate teams were not permitted to play for the championship until 1990.
1990 saw the tournament become a state tournament for the first time, with the state finals held at Illinois Wesleyan University. The top four teams from each of four Sectional Tournaments (two in the southern part of the state and two in the north) came to Bloomington to compete for the state title. Rockridge defeated Sullivan for the first Masonic State Title (and doing so by 5 points).
The State Tournament then moved to Eureka High School for four years, before moving to Eureka College for the 1995 and 1996 iterations.
For many years, the winner of the tournament, in addition to significant money, earned the right to keep the Charles W. Spatz Memorial Trophy. The trophy was a large traveling trophy. Charles Spatz was an officer and newsletter editor with the Grand Lodge in Winnebago, who was largely responsible for expanding the original tournament to a state tournament.
The Robert Grierson Friend of Scholastic Bowl Award has four times been awarded to individuals involved in the Masonic Tournament:
- Garrie Burr, Senior Grand Warden of the Masonic Grand Lodge of the state of Illinois (1996 - the first FoSB award).
- Wendell Walch, for his running the Masonic Tournament (1998-2004), and increasing the number of regional sites all of which helped promote Scholastic Bowl (2006).
- Frank Conry, Neil Pavlus, and Nelson Pyle; the former principals at Byron, Stillman Valley, and Winnebago who first encouraged a Masonic Lodge to sponsor a Scholastic Bowl Tournament, greatly promoting and spreading Scholastic Bowl (2012).
- Dale Thayer, for running the tournament after Wendell Walch left the job in 2004.
The questions for the tournament were written locally by volunteers. Later they were provided by Answers Plus. After Answers Plus lost the contract around the year 2000, the tournament went through a number of vendors including Academic Hallmarks at least 2006-07, but perhaps longer), Aegis Questions (2008-09) and Questions Galore (2010-11) until David Reinstein took over as editor starting in 2012.
The Masonic Tournament used approximately the IHSA format and distribution through 2009, including what was then all-at-once, 3-5 part 30 point bonuses, then switched to a unique format for 2010. In the current Masonic tournament, the match starts with 6 tossups, then alternates 8 team questions (which work like bonuses, but each team controls half of them no matter who answers the tossups), then 6 more tossups, then 8 more team questions, then 4 more tossups. The bonuses bounce back, and they became one part at a time starting in 2013. This tends to keep scores closer, since bonuses are no longer tied to tossup success.
For most of the tournament's history, it used what was called a double-elimination format at Sectionals and State, though it was actually a single-elimination tournament with a consolation bracket. Around 2010, they switched to a tournament format that has two pools of 6 teams each play round robin, followed by the top two teams in each pool moving on to a single-elimination playoff.
The 2021 tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.