With the outcome of the game clear in hand, then-Illinois State head women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton sent star guard Kristi Cirone ‘09 back to the scorer’s table. The Redbirds were up double digits in the final minutes, but Pingeton thought Cirone deserved an extra applause from the Redbird Arena crowd that day.
As Cirone got to the table, public address announcer Dave Colee ’72, M.S. ’82, had one final request for the All-American player.
“Hey, Kristi, hit a 3, will you?”
Cirone went ahead and splashed one of her 229 career 3-pointers, turned around toward the scorer’s table, and gave Colee a wink.
“I’ll never forget that day,” he said.
That’s how much he’s meant to the women’s basketball program the past 24 years, and those who know Colee best would say it’s no surprise he was the first person Cirone turned to after a momentous 3-point basket. Colee has developed hundreds of personal relationships with players, coaches, and fans while emphatically providing a home-court advantage with his enthusiasm behind the microphone. After nearly a quarter-century as the arena voice for the Redbird women’s basketball team, Colee will retire after he calls the final two home games February 19 and 20.
He’s made the job completely his own, pouring his heart and soul into every word. He studies the script meticulously, makes a point to get to know every player who comes through the program, and stays connected with everyone once they have left for other endeavors.
“He’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to our women’s sports programs at ISU,” said former coach Jill Hutchison M.S. ‘69, who was head of the program when he first began calling games in 1997.
A former Admissions employee who ran Preview for many years, Colee has long been a vocal ambassador for the University. His voice is amplified because of the connection he feels to the people within the program.
“He’s on a first-name basis with everybody, which makes you feel comfortable to begin with,” Hutchison added. “He builds relationships by talking to kids and listening to coaches. He’s just so supportive. He knows our recruited players and knows who they are before they get here.”
That makes him care a great deal about how the team does on the court. Ears ring when an ISU player connects from deep as Colee loudly drags out the long ‘e’ sound when announcing a 3 from a Redbird.
“It’s really a labor of love for me. I enjoy doing it,” Colee said. “I became more than a PA announcer. I became a fan. I’m a Redbird fan.”
Inducted into the Athletics Percy Family Hall of Fame in 2004 as the Stretch Miller recipient, given to a non player or coach whose contributions are vital to Athletics, Colee has a respect for the profession despite his allegiance to the Redbirds.
He acknowledges strong plays by opponents and makes sure he has every pronunciation correct and memorized for the visiting team. He feels it would be disrespectful to do anything less.
But make no mistake, he’s excited when Illinois State makes a strong play. Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing Zach Schroeder, M.S. ’14, has sat next to Colee at the table for years and has caught a few elbows after an exciting basket. But it’s because he cares, and Colee’s dedication to Athletics hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s in our Hall of Fame for a reason,” Schroeder said. “He’s devoted so much time, and a ton of hours to us. We don’t provide enough for those people and can’t say thanks enough, and we need those people to pull off a gameday.”
Colee also worked as a spotter for long-time men’s basketball and football public address announcer Steve Adams, who passed away in May. Colee credits Adams for showing him the ropes. He’s also grateful to people within Athletics for fostering a strong atmosphere and culture.
Colee has also served as the voice of the Big Red Machine Marching Band for 37 years. He is on the field when the pep band performs at halftime of football games and has an innate attention to detail, lessening the load for the faculty directing the formations.
He has forged relationships with band members just as he has with athletes and still remembers nicknames of band members from years prior. His presence is always appreciated.
“It’s like when the cool uncle comes to visit at Christmas,” said Dr. Tony Marinello, director of the band.
Colee will trade in those winter nights at the table next year for opportunities to travel with his wife. He’s looking forward to being a fan—at least one without a script—and is excited for someone else to have the opportunity to make it their own, just as he did 24 years ago. While Colee has seen some great games and been a part of some exciting moments, it was always the bonds and connections that made his job behind the mic special.
“A lot of things bring you back,” he said. “But mainly, it was the people.”