Throughout the student section they stand, 150 strong, with hoarse voices and red shirts bearing a screaming depiction of their namesake across the chest.
These are the BoLievers, a first-year student organization named after Bo Ryan that hopes to bring some structure to the student section at men’s basketball games. To enhance the game-day atmosphere and make the Kohl Center a more intimidating place for opponents, the group’s leaders wanted to get everyone cheering in sync.
“You’d have the second deck going, ‘Let’s go Badgers’ and you’d have the first deck saying, ‘Let’s go Red,’” said Eric Chilson, one of the founders of the BoLievers.
Chilson talked with a friend about forming a club that would help resolve those past issues and serve as a liaison between students and administration. They wanted something more efficient than the annual meeting between students and the UW Athletic Department, where individual ideas can get lost amid the lengthy duration.
“We were trying to have a student-run organization where we hear from the students themselves first, what they want, rather than going through the Athletic Department,” said Ryan Weisenbeck, one of the club’s leaders.
The BoLievers have developed a strong working relationship with the Grateful Red, the official, athletic department-affiliated student section for men’s basketball. The two groups are not competitive, but instead give each other ideas and provide a voice for what fans want to see at home games.
“They’re actually taking the time to understand and listen to what their students think about the athletic program,” said Chase Nier, another of the group’s leaders. “That’s pretty cool.”
After establishing a basis with administration, the BoLievers could get to the main purpose of their club—being loud and flustering opponents, particularly during free-throw attempts.
“I don’t think the other team reacts to you waving your arms, or you jumping up and down,” Weisenbeck said. “They see that at every other arena they go to. You got to do something to throw them off.”
Instead, Chilson has continued a strategy he started two years ago as a freshman—something he calls “cheat sheets.” Scouring social media for players’ girlfriends’ names and other ammunition, the BoLievers can engage in personalized chants for every opponent.
“During the Duke game, when Tyus Jones was shooting free throws, we were shouting his girlfriend’s name at him,” Weisenbeck said. “He missed the front end on a few free throws down the stretch.”
This got a shoutout from Grantland’s college basketball writer Mark Titus in his recap of the highly anticipated showdown with the Blue Devils.
“I have no idea who Melissa is or what she means to Jones, but I do know that Jones was 1-for-3 on foul shots while Wisconsin students chanted her name,” Titus wrote. “When they didn’t chant her name, Jones went 5-5 from the line. In retrospect, they probably should’ve chanted that the entire game.”
To make sure nothing gets too personal or out of hand, the BoLievers run their chant ideas past the Athletic Department, which has the power to approve or reject anything they come up with. While not everything has been allowed, the club is more focused on getting rid of vulgarities and modernizing chants that have been in place for decades.
“We wanted to add more cheers, different cheers, more unique things that you wouldn’t hear at any other Big Ten school you go to,” Weisenbeck said. “We want to stay within the guidelines of being a legitimate, classy student section, but still stand out by being clever.”
The club has even caught the attention of players like senior guard Josh Gasser, who attended the BoLievers’ first meeting with Duje Dukan, Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter after Chilson reached out to them via email.
“Right away when I saw that they were trying to get a better student section, I was all for it,” Gasser said. “That’s what college basketball is all about—good environments. And we always have a really good one but it’s good to take it to the next level.”
Chilson wants the club to surpass that next level by traveling to road games and bringing the BoLievers atmosphere to other nearby venues. They want to expand their outreach to the local community as well. Nier said the club has already started a food drive to donate to the local chapter of the Red Cross.
As the Badgers try to repeat their run to the Final Four, the BoLievers will continue to bring electricity to the Kohl Center. And though players always laud fans for their unwavering dedication, Gasser got to directly see the power of the club at that first meeting.
“I just wanted to chip in and just tell them that we need your support,” Gasser said. “We’re trying to win championships and we’re not going to be able to do that without your guys’ support.”