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‘That’s our link’: How Badger game days build perpetual community

Across generations, the Wisconsin Badgers provide a sense of endless support for fans of all walks of life.

It’s Nov. 15, 2014, and Jason Symes is rolling into Camp Randall with thousands of other Badgers fans to witness a key ranked matchup between No. 20 Wisconsin and No. 14 Nebraska. His cousin is getting married this Saturday, yet he sits with his friends in the nosebleeds of the stadium, unaware of the feat he is about to witness.

Symes remembers a Nebraska fan jawing about their early lead. That is, until the snow started falling and Melvin Gordon started chugging. Gordon’s 408-yard game on a snowy night in Madison set a record for the most single-game rushing yards in NCAA history. 

“[Gordon] started rocking and rolling, the crowd was building up and the snow was coming down. It was one of the best environments ever,” Symes said. 

Gamedays in Madison just feel different. From jumping around at Camp Randall in the fall to packing the Kohl Center and LaBahn Arena for winter hockey, Badgers sports are for everyone. They bring together a community that sticks together through the good and bad.

“Me and my buddies, that's how we keep in touch,” Symes said. “If there are Badger games on, we’re talking about [them],” he said. “That’s our link to each other.”

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Jason Symes and others pose with Paul Bunyan's Axe outside Camp Randall Stadium. (Image courtesy of Jason Symes)

Symes is about as Wisconsin as it gets. He grew up on the west side of Madison, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1990s and has a family in the area now. 

He remembers meeting his friends and exploring the stadium with brats in hand, enjoying the UW Marching Band’s 5th Quarter show after the game. 

“I remember from a very young age… coming to the games with my dad, parking near where we live now, going down what is now the bike path, and all the energy surrounding a game,” Symes said.

Three decades later, students are still finding community among gameday seas of red of white.

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Current UW-Madison freshman Misha Simdon also grew up with the Badgers and has been a fan for as long as she can remember. She grew up with one of her cousins and said many family photos from her youth included donning traditional red-and-white striped game bibs.

Simdon purchased student tickets for the men’s hockey games this season, cheering on Wisconsin with its raucous hockey student section, the Crease Creatures. She said she goes to the games with the same group of friends every Friday and Saturday night, typically arriving 30 minutes before the gates even open in order to secure front row seats.

Simdon said she uses the games as a way to decompress and get away from the stress of her freshman year. “Hockey and football games are a time that I’ve set aside from myself to have fun and take a break from my studying,” she said. School can be disheartening, but she describes the feeling in the student section as “cathartic.”

One of her favorite memories was the Michigan series in early November, when fans decked out in red “Creature Crawl” shirts for the Red Out in an “electric” arena. “They had the upper deck open because of the big rivalry,” she said. “It was more exciting, as someone from Wisconsin.”


UW-Madison freshman Misha Simdon, second from the right, is photographed at a Wisconsin Badgers game. (Courtesy of Misha Simdon)

For people like Symes who have witnessed decades of Badgers sports, it’s a special treat to watch many players journey from rookie to captain in Cardinal and white. “It’s fun to watch these kids and see how much they grow and develop,” he said. “They leave as men after coming in as kids.”

Whether you’re in the student section, next to the play or in the nosebleeds, coming to a Badgers game makes you part of a historical community. 

“I think to be a Badger fan is a lot about feeling like you are rooting for the same team, like you and all these people have a common goal and shared interest,” Simdon said. “That’s really exciting.”

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