Allie Held grew up a die-hard Bradley fan, going to games with her season-ticket holder dad. It would obviously take something big, huge, life-changing for her to become a Redbird fan too.

His name was Matt.

Matt Coates ’11, actually, a walk-on who joined the Redbird men’s basketball team in 2008. They were friends when he made the team. She sent him a message on social media, and their Interstate 74 romance soon began.

On Sunday—Valentine’s Day—Coates and Held were in the crowd at Redbird Arena for ISU and Bradley’s latest rivalry game. They were picked to compete in an in-game fan contest during a timeout on the court. After it was over, Coates surprised Held by grabbing the microphone, getting down on one knee, and asking her to marry him in front of a few thousand new friends.

She said yes.

“It was only right to do it at the Bradley-ISU game on Valentine’s Day,” Coates said.

It was a surprising proposal fitting of their surprising relationship. But they weren’t always the Montagues and Capulets.

In fact, Coates himself was a Bradley fan when he walked on at ISU in 2008; he was actually wearing a Bradley shirt in his social media profile picture at the time.

When he made the Redbird roster, Held sent him a playful message telling him that he couldn’t be both a Redbird and still a Bradley fan. “That’s kind of what started our friendship,” Coates said.

“I’m a Bradley fan,” said Held, who works at State Farm. “I went to every game as a kid. My dad was a season-ticket holder. I’m a Bradley fan at heart, and he’s made me an ISU fan.”

Coates, who works as a youth counselor at a children’s home in Peoria, spent the past week trying to act normal while putting together his big surprise. He even snuck Held’s parents and some friends into the game Sunday without her knowing.

Coates worked with his old friends in Redbird Athletics, notably Director of Marketing Zach Schroeder, M.S. ’14, to pull off the surprise. After the big moment Sunday, he high-fived the student fans in Red Alert—and thanked Athletics for the assist.

“I’m surprised and very, very happy,” Held said.

See more photos from Sunday’s basketball game:

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Ryan Denham can be reached at