LE MARS, Iowa -- If a student section this year rivals the "Carey Crazies" at Le Mars Community High School, I'm all ears.
(Actually, I plugged my ears once on Monday. This student section gets that raucous.)
I've encountered Heelan Pride. I've taken a seat in student sections from Bancroft, Neb., to Buena Vista University. I've seen faces painted, muscle shirts shredded and white-outs that pop with plump men in togas.
The section at Le Mars tops 'em all. This group sings the alphabet while opponents dribble. They ice foes in the "Ice Cream Capital" by singing "Happy Birthday to You" in English and Spanish.
Students and cheerleaders here sported ugly Christmas sweaters to one game this winter. They dressed in themes that varied from beachwear (all tastefully executed, high school Assistant Principal Mark Iverson assures) to Western wear to dress like your favorite lumberjack and/or nerd.
How do they get the word out on what to wear? School intercom and Twitter, of course.
I caught the "Carey Crazies" on Monday as the Bulldogs opened Class 3A District basketball action against a dogged Spirit Lake Indians squad. The contest, won by Le Mars, marked the last varsity game in Carey Gymnasium. The school opens a new 2,000-seat gym this summer, replacing the 54-year-old varsity gym named for late, great Le Mars Coach Jim Carey, not to be confused with comedic actor Jim Carrey.
"Our student section is in a class by itself," said Bulldogs Coach Dave Irwin. "They make the games a lot more fun for our players."
The Bulldogs soared through the Lakes Conference this season, posting a 13-1 mark to win the league. The team takes an 18-4 record into today's 7 p.m. Class 3A District finale versus top-rated and 22-0 MOC-Floyd Valley at Sioux Center High School.
The "Carey Crazies" will get to Sioux Center shortly after 5 p.m. They'll stretch en masse after lineups are announced. They'll pretend to sleep as each starter for MOC-Floyd Valley takes the court.
Seconds before opening tip, select boy leaders in the crowd will start an "I Believe" chant. The echo routine ends with the Le Mars following jumping and chanting, "I Believe We Will Win Tonight!"
If you're not a basketball fan, the mass chant and this fun crowd is worth the $6 ticket.
"Opposing coaches warn their teams about our student section," said Madi Baack, a senior at Le Mars High.
One Lakes Conference school, I'm told, admitted its students for free the night Le Mars came to town. The reason: School officials wanted the home team's student numbers to rival those that would occupy the visitors' section.
Spencer High School convened a pep assembly to address how Le Mars students cheer. Spencer's goal was to match that kind of spirit.
"Our kids were jealous the night they (Le Mars) were here," said Spencer High School Activities Director Roger Johnson. "When they're organized like that, they catch your attention. You have to love that kind of enthusiasm."
"The best thing about our student section is that it's not just seniors cheering," said Alex Cook, a senior who dripped sweat as he changed from an all-black outfit to a white-out ensemble at halftime on Monday. "We have talent and creativity in each grade."
And while the "Carey Crazies" get my headline this week, Cook said his school also has excellent speech groups, music departments and more. Eight groups from Le Mars High were nominated for last weekend's Iowa All-State Large Group Festival.
Jess Arnold, clad in a white T-shirt, cap and sunglasses, lent her support for the boys on Monday. Arnold, a senior on the girls basketball team, said her squad appreciated the "Carey Crazies" this year as well.
"We had people come support us at every game this year," said Arnold, whose team finished 9-13. "They were there, even at Emmetsburg, which is about two hours away. I had friends who graduated a few years ago tell me they couldn't believe what our student section was doing."