Emily Harriott received text messages Wednesday night from concerned friends: “Where are you? Are you still alive?”
Harriott spent the evening in her happy place — the student section at Welsh-Ryan Arena. But this was an unusual night for the Northwestern senior: She could be seen but not heard.
“It was different,” she said. “Quieter.”
Yes, for everyone.
Harriott, you see, is “The Shrieker.” Her high-pitched wails have become a signature of Northwestern basketball games and telecasts.
But on Wednesday, as the Wildcats dueled Iowa, she became Ronnie Woo Woo without the “Woo! Woo!”
After receiving complaints from both fans in the arena and television and radio partners after Sunday’s game against Illinois, NU officials asked her to tone it down. Or more specifically, to turn it off.
Harriott is president of Northwestern Wildside, the official NU student section. She regularly meets with Heather Obering, the athletic department’s director of marketing. At the end of their last conversation, Obering brought up the shrieking.
Harriott said Obering put it like this: “How about we not do that anymore?”
“It caught me a little by surprise,” Harriott said, “because I’ve been doing it for the last 3½ years.”
It’s a sensitive topic because Harriott is one of the sweetest, cheeriest people you’ll ever encounter. She could spot the sun at midnight.
“She’s an amazing student and an incredible fan of Northwestern athletics,” said Mike Polisky, NU senior associate athletic director. “We could not imagine a game without her.”
Their attitude: Hate the shriek, love the shrieker.
Harriott is a 3.9 student who attends dozens of NU athletic contests every year. She screams out of pure joy — and as a way to fire up the student section.
“It gets their attention; some of the kids are on their phones and not dialed into the game,” she said, no pun intended. “Plus enough people say it’s annoying, so I figure it must be annoying to the opposing team. I’m not the sixth man, but I try to be the 5½ — half a helpful person.”
Harriott might have helped Sunday as Northwestern pulled out a 68-66 win over Illinois. She certainly riled up parts of the Illini fan base.
The Illinois Barstool Twitter account posted a screenshot of a 2018 Tribune story on Harriott with the question: “y’all serious with this (expletive)?”
The Champaign Room tweeted a photo of her with: “THAT’S HER, OFFICER! THAT’S ONE OF THE PEOPLE WHO RUINED MY SUNDAY.”
A subtweet from the Champaign Room: “Just kidding. We love you @EmilyH107”
Yes, even Illini fans can’t stay mad at her.
Harriott said she will continue to attend games. The fan base might be losing faith in an NU basketball team that fell to Iowa 73-63 on Wednesday, but she is not.
“This team is a literal privilege to watch,” she said.
I mentioned the Curse of the Billy Goat. Harriott hopes Northwestern doesn’t suffer a similar fate after muzzling her.
“I will admit,” she said, “to being a little superstitious.”
And then she ended the conversation in a way that would make Pat Fitzgerald proud: “Go Cats!”