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Valley City State University womens basketball coach Jill DeVries has seen the difference a good fan base can make.
"It was very evident a couple of years ago, when we had a full house for the Jamestown game, the difference the crowd can have in a game," DeVries said. "Even when we've been on the road at places like Dordt, they just have an outstanding student following.
"The environment can be such a game changer."
It's a culture that has always been at VCSU for games against rivals like Jamestown College, but otherwise left a frequently quiet crowd.
That was until almost a month ago, when VCSU junior Philip Reuer got in touch with the school's athletic staff regarding a class project he had and ended up starting a student-run fan group known as the Cardinal Crazies.
Since the Crazies started up, they've made their presence known, providing a loud, boisterous crowd for many of the Vikings' early home games. Official membership in the group, which is earned with the purchase of a $5 t-shirt from Reuer, is at 120 members, and non-members of the student body are encouraged to participate in their festivities as well.
"I didn't expect it to explode," Reuer said. "I was thinking initially, maybe, we'd get 40 people, 50 people. It's really turned into something I didn't expect.
Early in the season, the Crazies have already read newspapers as opponents' lineups were being read, they've had a student section "white out", and, according to athletic director Jack Denholm, helped with a slight attendance increase.
It's all the result of a class project about group dynamics, which led Reuer to approach Denholm.
After a few meetings that involved basketball coaches and faculty within the college, the Crazies took shape and prepared for their debut by having an opening meeting that was attended by roughly 50 people and allowed the group to work on cheers for the game.
It's a connectedness that is the entire base of the project.
Before home games, Reuer sends out an email instructing students of the theme for the night. Many play off of well known themes from larger schools, such as a "White Out," where students wore white shirts, or the "Silent Night" game, planned for Dec. 7, where the crowd is encouraged to be silent until the Vikings score 10 points before going crazy for the 10th point.
"That's kind of the cool thing about the Cardinal Crazies is that it's an organized crowd," Reuer said. "I communicate with everyone saying 'Hey, we're going to go White-Out today, or we're going to do Cardinal Crazies shirts, or we're going to go Batman themed tonight or whatever. We can do whatever we want because we have that communication."
In addition, non-Crazie members of the student body may also receive an email from the athletic department encouraging them to participate in the night's theme.
Members of the Crazies, though, get additional perks, including reserved rows where the VCSU student section traditionally sits. Members of the group can also have their name drawn at halftime for a shooting contest to win prizes from businesses including Papa John's Pizza, Brothers III and Leevers Foods.
Many of the group's events are expected to be home games, with little travel involved. The highlight is expected to be the basketball teams' games with Jamestown College Jan. 30 at W.E. Osmon Fieldhouse.
"Everything's building up for the Jamestown game next semester," Reuer said. "Jamestown is the big game. We're going to pack the house for that. It's going to be awesome."
Both DeVries and Denholm were pleased with the Crazies' early progress.
"We wanted it to be something that the students could grab onto and embrace, and I think they've done a great job," DeVries said.
Though it started as a project, Reuer hopes the Crazies will become a VCSU tradition. But for now, he enjoys the progress that's been made.
"I know when I first went to college here, I didn't know when the games were, but now you have at least 120 people that know exactly where the games are and when, and that rubs off on the other students too," he said. "So far, we've not necessarily packed the house, but it's always been kind of full."