From hours in lines to years in a single seat: what it means to be in the Izzone

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For many basketball fans, waiting hours outside an arena may seem counterproductive. But for some students at Michigan State University, it is a lifestyle. 

Shelby Gonser

Eric Frey, Kyla Washington, Shelby Gonser, and Alex Weisenmiller at the 2019 NCAA Final Four game between Michigan State and Texas Tech.

“The Seahawks, for example, have the 12th man as the fans. I feel like the Izzone is another player on the team,” said Nico Mancini. “Of the games that I have been to, and I have been to every one except a couple, we’ve only lost one game.”

The Izzone encompasses the voices of nearly 4,000 MSU students who  sit in both the upper and lower levels of the Breslin Center. The group is one of the most notable basketball student sections in the country alongside groups such as Duke’s “Cameron Crazies.”

To become a member of the Izzone, MSU students pay a membership fee as well as game admission fees. But according to some members, there are other costs associated with being an Izzone member. 

“When I found out what days games were on, I went back to my schedule and made sure that I would end my classes around noon,” said Kyla Washington. “If I had to take a certain class on a certain day that ended later, honestly I would just… miss the class and go to the game.”

Eric Frey said, “I’ve spent probably more time at Breslin than I have in Wells Hall or any other academic building. That’s what I have done the past four or five years.”

Washington was not the only one in her small group that would schedule classes in relation to basketball games. The group had a master schedule that combined everyone’s classes so that someone could be scheduled to wait in line to get tickets while others studied.

Shelby Gonser, a native of Charlotte, Michigan, said, “I knew basketball was on Tuesday and Thursday, so I don’t have class Tuesday or Thursday. I planned my schedule for that. I was taking 8 a.m. classes so that I could be done in time to get in line and go inside for basketball.”

Frey said, “With the schedule thing Kyla did, it was a lot of, ‘when do you have class? OK, if you’re not in class, go wait in line.’ Some people didn’t want to give their schedule so I would have to hound them to either give it to me or Kyla, just so everyone could do a fair share.” 

Washington, who has been at Michigan State for seven years, will obtain her master’s degree this spring and has been a member of the Izzone since she arrived on campus in 2014. Washington believes that she has solidified herself as the model Izzone member, and for good reason, she has found herself sitting in the same section for years.

“I personally think that my name should be engraved on seat nine, because that is the seat that I have always sat in for the past six years,” said Washington. “I don’t know that there is another person that has gone to MSU, that has ever dedicated this much time, thought, tears. I genuinely think that I am ‘the’ Izzone member.”  

Nico Mancini

Izzone members Jack Waynick, Nico Mancini, Eric Frey, and others pose for a picture before an MSU basketball game.

One of the group’s most illustrious memories came while waiting in line for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Duke in December 2019. Washington recalled that students were told not to line up until 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. for the game, as it was the most popular game to date that season.

“We went there maybe around 5.a.m, and there were actually people at the Breslin Center, and they told us we couldn’t stay there,” said Washington. “Of course, we just kind of were pacing Breslin until we saw other groups go up there, because people still went there before 7 a.m.”

Though the group’s members enrolled at MSU at different times, combined they have spent almost two decades inside the Breslin Center. They form, in no small part, what could be described as a small basketball family.

Gonser said, “I think it is a big family. That is how I met all my best friends in college, and it grew my love for the sport of basketball and Michigan State.”

“We don’t hang out with each other outside necessarily all the time, but we all know each other in the basketball realm,” said Washington. “We make sure that we’re all in line at the right time, that if someone’s class is late, we will save spots or whatever. That is literally our basketball family.”

With the Spartans  losing their final game of the 2020-21 season, Washington’s seven-year tenure in the Izzone came to an end. She will be the last of this group to graduate as Frey graduated in December, while both Gonser and Mancini graduated last year. She did not mince words when describing her time in the Izzone.

“I met my best friend in the Izzone. That was genuinely the thing that gave me life at school,” said Washington. “I don’t know that I would have had as much fun as I did in college without the Izzone.”

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