WASHINGTON – When thousands of disorderly fans took to the streets of College Park after the University of Maryland’s national basketball championship Monday night, they were met by hundreds of firefighters, police — and six employees and friends of the Smoothie King.
Determined not to have the business vandalized, Smoothie King Manager Tom Fitzpatrick, three of his employees and two of their friends stood outside the store’s plate-glass windows hoping to deter anyone who tried to do damage to the property.
“We had to do something. People tried to throw things through the widow. We had to stop them,” Fitzpatrick said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
“This place pays my rent. I wasn’t going to let them ruin it,” he said of the store that sells frozen fruit drinks, vitamin supplements and other health- oriented snacks.
Armed with nothing more than a single flashlight between them, the six managed to keep the store safe, even though they were only yards from the center of the post-game celebration.
The riots, which stretched into early Tuesday morning, are nothing new to College Park.
Last year, after the Terrapins lost to Duke University in the semifinal game of the NCAA Final Four, Maryland fans took to the streets, rioting and setting fires that caused more than $300,000 in damages.
After Maryland won this year’s semifinal game Saturday against Kansas, Terp fans took to the streets again, confronting police and bystanders, throwing bottles and breaking store windows, among other damage. Police fired pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
With that history in mind, county and campus police prepared for riots after Monday’s national championship game, bringing in hundreds of police in riot gear in an effort to keep things peaceful.
“We don’t advocate business owners protecting their businesses,” said Cpl. George Long of the Prince George’s County Police Department.
But College Park City Manager Richard Conti said that after Saturday’s riots, the College Park business community was told that it should protect its property.
“I guess that was the only choice left,” Conti said of the Smoothie King defense.
Fitzpatrick said the effort worked. Some men tried to throw a street sign and police barriers though the store’s window Monday night, but in the end “all we had was a little crack in the window that’s pretty minor.
“It didn’t need to be boarded up or anything,” he said.
And there was an additional reward for their heroic effort.
“We all got some free smoothies,” Fitzpatrick said.