A Day in the Life of the Hilton Magicians

Written by Emily Barske, photo by James Perkins


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In December 1971, ISU basketball entered a new stage in its history when the team began playing in Hilton Coliseum.

Built as part of the Iowa State Center, the coliseum was named after ISU President James Hilton, who worked to raise money for the initiative he believed would make a tremendous impact on the university.

According to university records, the first donation made to the Iowa State Center was a two-dollar bill from a faculty member after Hilton announced the project.

With a total budget of a little more than $8 million and more than a decade of planning, Hilton Coliseum, seating 14,356, became the home of Cyclone basketball.

“The Coliseum, a part of the Iowa State Center complex, will, I hope fulfill one of the University’s greatest needs for the benefits of students, staff, alumni and the citizens of the State,” Hilton said when the building was opened.

According to StadiumJourney.com, Hilton Coliseum is among the top 25 best college basketball arenas in the nation. The ranking is based on the atmosphere, cost and fans, among other categories.

On Valentine’s Day 1989, magic was in the air, but it wasn’t just from love. It was building up for an 82-75 win over No. 3 Missouri in Hilton Coliseum that night.

That day, Buck Turnbull, a sports reporter for the Des Moines Register, used the term “Hilton Magic” for the first time in an article previewing that night’s game versus Missouri.

The term, used to describe the electric and vibrant atmosphere in Hilton Coliseum during a men’s or women’s basketball game, took off quickly during Johnny Orr’s coaching era from 1980 to 1994.

The phrase was used in marketing pieces for the basketball program in the 1990-91 season. It was even featured in the title of the men’s basketball media guide for the 1991-92 season.

Today, “Hilton Magic” is widely used to express the atmosphere produced by the die-hard Cyclone fans, an atmosphere so powerful that KCCI News measured the decibel levels in the arena at nearly the same level as a jet engine at takeoff.

After ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale called his first game at Hilton last November versus No. 7 Michigan, the 77-70 upset prompted him to say, “It’s magic, baby!”

It’s 8 p.m. The Cyclones walk onto the court in Hilton Coliseum and shake hands with their opponents — the moment everyone has been waiting for since last March, the tipoff to begin the 2014-15 season.

Five Cyclones stand in identical white, crisp uniforms, with socks and compressions to their liking, all with their ankles taped to prevent ankle injuries. The refreshed and energized officials also occupy the shiny, waxed court.

Cyclone Power electrifies the arena as the cheerleaders’ chants echo through the crowd. The roar of the fight song shakes all 14,356 seats from section 133 to section 216.

Journalists wait, prepared for the play-by-play action as they sit with fresh pages of stats in front of them. A grinning, 6-year-old future Cyclone waves to the scoreboard camera with one hand and holds a Clone Cone in the other.

But the only thing on the players’ minds is the Hilton Magic about to ensue.

The electric atmosphere we all know as Hilton Magic begins long before the ball is tipped and continues long after the last fan has exited the arena. Hundreds of people tirelessly contribute their talents to make each game day a success. These people are what make Hilton Magic possible for the fans, the coaches and the players.
Here’s a look into how the magicians do their work. With an 8 p.m. tipoff on a Monday, these individuals and their staff contribute to game day after fulfilling their normal duties for the day.

Ryan Zluticky, Men’s Basketball Equipment:

3 p.m. — Readies equipment and practice uniforms for the players to complete shoot-around at Hilton.

4 p.m. — Brings practice uniforms back to the Sukup practice facility. At Sukup, Zluticky gathers the players’ uniforms, including their individually preferred items like arm-sleeve compressions or tall socks.

4:30 p.m. — Transports white game uniforms and warm-ups to Hilton. Zluticky handles all articles the men wear; the only thing players have to bring are their shoes.

6:30 p.m. — Cleans up locker room and picks up hangers after players have changed into their uniforms.

Matt Shoultz, Communications:

3 p.m. — Talks with TV announcers about team news and assists them in getting interviews with Coach Fred Hoiberg or the players during shoot-around.

3:30 p.m. — Distributes packets of notes in media room. Note packets include numerous statistics, such as career highs, for each player to put the media at ease when announcing and reporting about the game.

8:50 p.m. — Catches Hoiberg or players before or after going to the locker room for halftime to get them to interviews with broadcasters.

10:15 p.m. — After the game, all coaches and key players are brought to the press conference in a timely manner.
Interesting fact: Shoultz’s crew keeps track of statistics and distributes them to the media. When a player is injured, Shoultz is the outlet who informs the television broadcasters of the player’s status.


7 p.m.— Warm up for the game by stretching and loosening up.

7:50 p.m. — Complete stunt routine during player introduction before the game while players’ names are announced.

Interesting fact: Cheerleaders must wear their hair half up with the bow on the crown of their head.

Vic Miller, Athletic Trainer:

3 p.m. — Checks injuries of players that are game-time decisions.

4:30 p.m. — Prepares visitor’s locker room with First Aid supplies, taping supplies and toiletries. Miller sets out water and Gatorade for the benches for both teams.

6 p.m. — Tapes ankles for all players to prevent injuries, which is a team rule. Players often have their own routine and will request a certain pre-game stretch.

6:45 p.m. -- Helps officials with their health needs like taping their ankles or providing assistance with illnesses.

Interesting fact: Under Hoiberg’s NBA model, the athletic trainer has the closest seat to the scorer’s table.

Nathan Terry, Marketing for Men’s Basketball:

5 p.m. — Distributes around 12 scripts of the promotions or events, like a sponsored shooting contest, that will take place during the game. The script goes to various people, including the video board crew, camera crew, announcers and band so that everyone is on the same page.

8:20 p.m. — Talks with the sponsor or special guest who will be recognized during the first half.

8:50 p.m. — Prepares for the halftime entertainment to take the court.

Megan Rodenburg, Staffing Coordinator for Event Management:

6:30 p.m. — Custodial crew arrives and is told their duties.

7 p.m. — Ticket takers scan tickets and supervise as students enter through the students’ doors.

7:30 p.m. — Ushers greet and answer spectators’ questions about the facility, finding programs, game promotions and other things going on at the game. Many ushers are assigned to the same section each year and build relationships with fans who regularly sit in their section.

10:30 p.m. — Traffic staff directs traffic out of the parking lot to prevent collisions. They are assisted by police officers who manually control the stoplights.

Interesting fact: Event management staff for a men’s game consists of 90 ushers, 55 traffic attendants, 18 custodians and 6 production crew.

Pep Band:

7 p.m. — Sets up instruments and tunes them as a group.

7:55 p.m. — Plays National Anthem and ISU Fight Song before the game begins.

8:20 p.m. — Performs “Beer Barrel Polka” and “First Down Cheer.”

10 p.m. — Plays sequences of songs like “Celebration,” “Pfft! You Were Gone” and the credits theme from “Looney Toons” after a Cyclone win.

Interesting fact: The band’s director has a headset on so that the band can quickly call up a requested song.

Justin Shapiro, Concessions:

10 a.m. — Dyes ice cream cardinal and gold for Clone Cones. During the game, concessions will go through about 125 gallons of ice cream.

1:30 p.m. — Begin popping popcorn to prepare for the game. About 55 gallons of popcorn are used each game.

6 p.m. — Warm up pulled pork, hot dogs, brats and taco meat. Concessions will sell 50 pounds of pulled pork, 140 pounds of hot dogs or brats and 240 pounds of taco meat.

11 p.m. — Balance revenue made from the game’s sales.

Interesting fact: The hot dogs, pork and popcorn served are all ordered from Iowa distributors.

Written by Emily Barske, photo by James Perkins