Any alum who went to a Redbird men’s basketball home game this season could see that something was different about the student section. It was louder, better organized, and bigger.

It didn’t just happen overnight. And this week, Red Alert, the student organization that anchors the student section, was named the top Missouri Valley Conference college basketball student section contender in the Naismith Student Sections of the Year Award competition.

“It was nice to see the recognition, because we worked hard for it. It was nice to see that come to fruition,” said Matthew Dixon, a junior recreation management and Red Alert secretary, told STATEside on Friday just hours before the Redbirds faced Northern Iowa in their first game of Arch Madness.

Students cheer on Redbirds

Students cheer on the Redbirds during a home game at Redbird Arena this season.

A core group of seven Red Alert student leaders came together last spring with ambitions of beefing up what had, at times, been a disorganized student cheering section. Their planning coincided with the hiring of Peter Brandstatter as the coordinator of fan experience at Illinois State—a newly created position.

So Dixon and the other executive board members got to work. They reached out to other large student organizations on campus, like Student Government Association and the Association of Residence Halls. They hijacked the corners of classroom whiteboards across the Illinois State campus, writing in game times to remedy a perceived lack of awareness about when games were scheduled.

“I know I look at that stuff when I’m not paying attention in class,” Dixon said. “Students remember that later on.”

Red Alert, and the Athletics staff overall, also engaged students much more this season through social media, said Mitch Ummel, Red Alert vice president and senior political science and business major.

“I personally feel that was the biggest reason we got the students at the games that we did,” said Ummel. (Ummel spoke to STATEside between games Friday at Scottrade Center, sporting a vintage Dana Ford ’06 jersey, a Redbird four-year letter-winner and now an assistant under coach Dan Muller.)

And boost attendance they did. Dixon said they’ve seen at least 100 more students at each home game, on average. And it was a lively crowd, taking part in a “Harlem Shake” viral video shoot, and dressing up in costumes for Retro Night.

“We had to account for people who want to come to the basketball game and have a good time and don’t necessarily care about the score of the game. And that was a huge focus this year,” Ummel said.

Brandstatter played a key role in supporting Red Alert, said Jodi Becker, senior geography major and president of Red Alert.

“We would not be where we are without Pete,” Becker said.

Becker said she plans to continue making the trip to St. Louis for Arch Madness as an alumna. Dixon said he and the other younger Red Alert board members are eager to grow on the group’s success next season.

But on the Friday afternoon before the Redbirds’ first game of this year’s Arch Madness, Becker, Ummel, and Dixon predicted big things. A win Friday, they said, means they play Sunday. The vibe at Arch Madness is like nothing else, Becker said.

“Anything can happen,” she said.

The Naismith honor, determined through two rounds of public votes, combined with a scoring of finalists by the Naismith Awards Board of Selectors, amounted to Red Alert winning a prize of $250 and bragging rights for the year.

STATEside is reporting from the MVC tournament for as long the Redbirds are playing. Follow all the action on Illinois State Athletics’ Tournament Central page or here on STATEside.

Ryan Denham can be reached at