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Still crazy after all these years: Red Scare turns 20

2:15 PM  Dec 10th, 2015
by Caroline McCormack '16

UPDATE Jan. 7, 2016:

UD students’ passion for community is apparent when Red Scare is in full throat. CBS Sports Network highlighted these fierce and ferocious fans who see their support as just another expression of the UD community spirit. The video, left, aired prior to the Flyer men’s basketball team taking on UMass Jan. 6, 2016. Flyers won the A-10 home opener, 93-63.

 

The UD Arena was overwhelming the cold night of March 18, 2015. Dayton was trailing Boise State, but it was as if the students knew their cheers could make a difference. They began to scream louder and stand taller. The students of Red Scare didn’t want their chants to just go around the Arena; they wanted them to go around the nation.

The student section we’ve come to know, watch and love, whether from inside the Arena or on our TV at home, was not always burning red. Twenty years ago, students wanting to recapture the glory days of men’s basketball founded Red Scare. Today, Red Scare makes fans proud to be among the Flyer Faithful and rightly wins accolades of its own.

Red Scare’s creation story started in the fall of 1995 in 111 Evanston, a skinny two-story frame home where housemates Ashley Puglia Noronha ’96 and Katie Brown Konieczny ’96 hatched a plan to develop a student group to support the University’s athletics.

The seniors, you see, felt a little cheated. Noronha came to UD expecting the fan experience that birthed epic stories told by her alumni parents, Nora McNally Puglia ’70 and Fred Puglia ’65, who taught her UD’s fight song as soon as she could talk.

“When I came to UD as a student, I was shocked that no one else knew the song,” Noronha said.

In the Puglia household, NCAA and NIT wins made for “glory-days” basketball stories from a time when the UD fight song was sung constantly.

Noronha’s parents told of UD’s trip to the NCAA Tournament final in 1967 when UD played against UCLA and its 7-foot-2 center Lew Alcindor, later known as NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“UD lost, but my parents told me many stories of the dedicated fans and the camaraderie amongst them as they crowded into the UD student union to watch the games on screens that were specially set up for the occasion,” Noronha said. “My mom remembers that a student — in honor of the UD player Glinder Torain — painted on his car, ‘Who needs Alcindor, we’ve got Glinder!’”

Noronha wanted to resurrect the deafening cheers of the Arena and the pride that once filled the community, and she knew it was going to take a lot of energy and commitment.

The women took their idea of founding a student spirit club to Patricia “Trish” Kroeger ’66, UD’s spirit and special events coordinator for athletics. And she offered them her son, Joe, as one of the club’s first members.

Joe Kroeger ’97 had grown up with UD basketball, from selling programs before games at age 8 to running the coat check at age 14. He recalled the ’80s, when giants like Roosevelt Chapman and Damon Goodwin roamed the court and the Arena was electric. And he wanted to help bring some of that electricity back.

“The timing of it is really important,” Joe Kroeger explained. “Dayton was not winning basketball, maybe four games a year, so the [student] tickets were not selling. Our motivation was to fill the student section.”

The average attendance for men’s basketball in 1995 was barely 11,000 during the 7-20 season — still great by most universities’ standards, but more than 2,000 shy of the sellout the students thought their school deserved.

First, they needed to get students excited about filling the seats. Noronha said the enthusiasm was there — it just needed to be organized.

“Up to that point, students were scattered throughout the arena, so the fan power wasn’t cohesive,” Noronha said. “By bringing students together, Red Scare gave us an opportunity to support our fellow students in their athletic pursuits, for students to grow together in friendship, and to develop an appreciation for the distinguished athletic legacy of the University.”

Next, they needed to secure the seats. Trish Kroeger helped the student organization get a block of seats at football and men’s and women’s basketball games.

Finally, they needed a name. “Red Menace” and “Oliver’s Army,” for 1994-2003 men’s head coach Oliver Purnell, were thrown around, but the organization knew it had a winner with the name “Red Scare.”

“It was clever,” Joe Kroeger said. “It had a connotation that wouldn’t be associated with a group like ours. I rallied for it.”

A phrase once associated with communism and political radicalism was an unusual choice for a private university’s athletic support group. But it was unique and intellectual and had ways of making everyone start asking, “What is Red Scare?”

The organization started off small, Noronha said, debuting at the last football home game of the season, a 55-0 win over West Virginia State. Then Red Scare started filling five to 10 rows for the men’s basketball games, wearing shirts reading “Red Scare” on the front and “Go crazy or go home” on the back, painting their faces with red and blue paint, and bellowing the words to the UD fight song.

Soon students stopped asking what Red Scare was and started asking how they could join.

“There was a new and exciting energy around the program after a very challenging stretch of years,” said Michael Joyce ’96, one of the founding members of Red Scare.

Student participation rose, and men’s basketball home attendance rose — to above 12,000 by the 2001-02 season. And everyone had something to cheer about, including a 21-11 season in 2001-02 and a 22-14 season in 2002-03.

Red Scare — the honorary sixth man on the court — has gained appreciation from men’s head coach Archie Miller himself. Miller has repeatedly thanked Red Scare for its contribution through social media.

Miller tweeted after Dayton beat Saint Joseph’s, 68-64, “@red_scare you were fantastic tonight and we thank everyone who was at the arena helping us pull through! We have the best fans in COUNTRY.”

Players add to the praise.

After the Flyers’ 56-55 win over Boise State in UD Arena in the NCAA First Four March 18, 2015, then-senior Jordan Sibert told ESPN that UD’s crowd was a component for their success. “They were electrifying. … I don’t think we would have won that game without them,” Sibert said.

Red Scare also has found success beyond core sports as its spirit model evolved.

“I think we’re unique in the sense of putting a big effort in the non-mainstream [sports],” senior Ryan Phillips said. Phillips, the current Red Scare president, puts emphasis on appreciating all UD athletic programs. The crowds, victory chants and outrageous signs can be heard and seen at women’s basketball, volleyball, and men’s and women’s soccer games.

“We give them the home-field advantage,” he said.

In Red Scare’s recent past, students received coveted men’s basketball seats as groups by accumulating points for attending other athletics events. While it helped the other sports, it hurt basketball. Red Scare could look sparse or scattered when the student group could not fill its assigned seats because of class or other commitments, Phillips said.

At the start of the 2014 season, men’s basketball tickets became first-come, first-serve. Instead of getting points at other athletics events, students cheering at these events now receive free food, T-shirts or other giveaways from Red Scare. It worked, with the student section hitting capacity during some basketball games during the 2014-15 season.

Last season, Red Scare saw continued attendance growth and support for non-basketball sports, Phillips said, and basketball hit heights that would make the Red Scare founders proud. Men’s basketball had an average attendance of 12,718 and a team record of 27-9, including advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Women’s basketball ranked 50th nationally in attendance — and first in the Atlantic 10 Conference — with 2,538, and the team advanced to the Elite Eight.

Although Red Scare puts the focus on cheering for all UD athletics, it also helps bring all Flyers, past and present, together, Phillips said.

“Everyone talks about community. Sports, in my mind, is one way you can experience true community,” Phillips said. “It’s not the University of Dayton Flyers. This is my University of Dayton Flyers.”

Red Scare has changed the game for athletics and all UD Flyers, say alumni.

“Over the years, the student section turnout and cheering has varied,” said Alan Hemler ’87, a men’s basketball season ticket holder. Hemler said he has loved watching students create a “high-energy environment” that supports UD athletics.

“The past four years of Red Scare have outperformed previous seasons,” Hemler said.

And the nation has noticed. In 2012, UD earned the title “Best Under-the-Radar College Basketball Atmosphere” from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Intersport. In 2013, Red Scare was nominated for a Naismith Student Section of the Year Award. And on March 25, 2014, NBC Nightly News highlighted the blue-faced, red-haired, flag-waving Red Scare in a feature on school spirit.

“The founding fathers are proud of the group — I certainly am,” Joe Kroeger said. That pride traverses the miles as he views the student section on TV from his home on the West Coast. “Keep it up for another 20 years.”

For a school that focuses on tradition and community, Red Scare is one embodiment. So here’s to 20 more years of Red Scare. May the chants always be loud, the seats be never empty, and the Flyer spirit soar.

DAYTON, FLYERS — GO UD!

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