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 round of 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?”Appears In
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.
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. That’s how much he’s meant to the women’s basketball program the past 24 years.
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 retired when he finished calling the final two home games in February.
He made the job completely his own, pouring his heart and soul into every word. He did more than study the script meticulously. Colee made a point of getting to know every player who came through the program, and he stayed connected with everyone once they 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 Colee began calling games in 1997.
A former Admissions employee who ran the Preview orientation program for incoming freshmen many years, Colee has long been a vocal ambassador for the University. He has served as the voice of the Big Red Machine Marching Band for 37 years, taking the field when the band performs at halftime of football games.
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, who directs the band.
Colee’s voice was amplified within Athletics because of the equally strong connection he felt to the people within that 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 approach made Colee care a great deal about how the team did on the court. Ears would ring when an ISU player connected from deep as Colee loudly drug out the long ‘e’ sound when announcing a 3-point shot from a Redbird.
“It’s really a labor of love for me. I enjoyed 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 recipient of the Stretch Miller Award given to a nonplayer or coach whose contributions are vital to Athletics, Colee made a personal commitment to fulfill the responsibility he felt behind the microphone.
Despite his allegiance to the Redbirds, he acknowledged strong plays by opponents. He made sure he had every pronunciation correct and memorized for the visiting team. He felt it would be disrespectful to do anything less.
But make no mistake, he was always among the most excited when Illinois State made a strong move. Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing Zach Schroeder, M.S. ’14, has sat next to Colee at the table for years and caught more than a few elbows after an excellent play.
“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. We need these 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 grateful to people within Athletics as well for fostering a strong atmosphere and culture that made working games on cold winter nights a joy.
Colee will trade his spot at the announcer’s table next year for opportunities to travel with his wife Sandra. He’s looking forward to continuing as a fan—one without a script. He is excited for someone else to have the opportunity to make the role of public announcer their own, just as he did 24 years ago.
Never did he envision being a part of so many great games and exciting Redbird moments. Even more meaningful and lasting are the connections and friendships that made his job behind the mic special.
“A lot of things bring you back,” he said. “But mainly, it was the people.”