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Our view: Game day at Alerus sees improvements

UND fans kick up the noise in the Alerus Center. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

Herald editorial board

When UND President Mark Kennedy formed his Football Game Day Experience Committee last summer, his goal was to find "20, 30, 40 different things" that can enhance the atmosphere at Fighting Hawks games.

As the committee's first season comes to a close, Kennedy deems it a success. So do we.

The final football game of the season is Saturday, when UND hosts Eastern Washington at the Alerus Center. What remains is the excitement that was built around the team during the summer and throughout the home games this season.

It started, of course, with the work of coach Bubba Schweigert and his staff. Schweigert has proven to be a tireless campaigner for the program, and that certainly has helped boost interest.

The formation of the Game Day Experience Committee helped, too. Although the idea behind the group is to create change over three years, there were achievements this season.

Most noticeable was the enhanced tailgating experience, which brought more students to the pregame activities in the Alerus Center parking lot. It was a bit more rambunctious at times, but the youth movement added fun to pregame festivities. It also created a need for more electricity, better garbage collection and restroom availability, but those kinks are being worked out.

The Alerus Center took on many improvements this year — not all due to the committee, but some after discussions with the group's findings. The sound, lighting and internet service were improved, the suite area got a needed and welcomed upgrade through a sponsorship with Happy Harry's Bottle Shops, and more green was added throughout the building.

In coming years, it would be wise to add even more UND football references — perhaps a tribute to the program's history and its best all-time players.

The in-game experience was better this year, too. Due to better coordination efforts, there were fewer quiet moments, better and more consistent music and more interesting ceremonial moments. A mascot roaming the stands and sidelines would be appropriate, and that's something under consideration for next season.

All of this — along with the expectation of a strong team — helped boost attendance. The home-opener, for instance, drew 12,047 fans; it was the first time more than 12,000 attended a game since 2009.

Formation of the committee showed UND is committed to the football program and also helped create a palpable buzz for the season.

Work remains. Generally speaking, the overall experience at certain rival schools in the region still trumps much of the game-day experience at UND. Catching up in just one year is unrealistic, thus the three-year commitment of the committee.

Fans who are interested in submitting suggestions can do so by contacting the university, a Game Day Experience Committee member, or even as a letter for publication in the Herald.

Consider it a challenge, and send in your thoughts.

Note: Herald Publisher Korrie Wenzel is a member of the Game Day Experience Committee.

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