COLLEGE PARK – The scene was all-too-familiar in College Park Tuesday night.
This time, though, few saw it coming.
Moments after the University of Maryland women’s basketball team capped a thrilling 78-75 overtime win over Duke University for its first national championship, exuberant fans burst onto Route 1 to exult in the triumph of the Terrapins, a long-shot title contender when the season started.
Within minutes, what started as a peaceful celebration spun out of control, as it did when the men’s team won the national title in 2002. As the crowd nearly filled the intersection of Route 1 and Knox Road, revelers ripped road signs from the ground and lit them on fire, threw bottles and rocks at police carrying riot gear and tried in vain to topple a university shuttle bus.
Post-game rioting, previously restricted to men’s basketball and football, shocked many who didn’t think it would carry over to women’s sports. Although some students oppose such behavior, others say it is impossible to rid the campus of rioting.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” said Nan Ratner, chairwoman of the University Senate Student Conduct Committee, which passed a new policy Monday that, if approved by President C.D. Mote Jr., would permit the expulsion of students for off-campus rioting. “We passed the policy to emphasize that we don’t tolerate that kind of behavior.”
Leading up to the game, few people expected much celebration if the Terps won. At the Maryland Book Exchange, which peddles team apparel, manager Ted Ankeney said there has been little interest in the team. Even though the women — who will meet President Bush at the White House on Thursday — are the best in the land, the men’s team is still a better sell.
“You can’t even come close to comparing it,” Ankeney said.
In 2002, the Book Exchange was one of several businesses vandalized during riots following a win by the Maryland men in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. The previous year, a bonfire after a loss to Duke in the national semifinal burned through fiber-optic cables, causing $500,000 in damage.
But on Tuesday afternoon, University and Prince George’s County Police said they weren’t expecting anything remotely similar. At tip-off, scores of seats remained empty at Cornerstone Grill & Loft, the Santa Fe Cafe and R.J. Bentley’s in College Park, and some patrons said they weren’t planning more than a victory toast if Maryland won.
As Maryland battled back from a 13-point deficit, however, mild interest soared to a fever pitch. When Kristi Toliver hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, the roar inside Cornerstone Grill & Loft was ear-splitting. And when Duke’s desperation shot to tie the game failed, the frenzied fans rushed onto the highway.
Stacy Taylor, a senior at the university who works as a server at Santa Fe Cafe and has witnessed several riots, said Maryland fans view rioting as “something to write home about.”
“It has nothing to do with sports,” she said. “It shows social unity to a certain degree.”
Other students condemned the practice and said it diminishes the school’s reputation.
“I don’t think it’s classy at all,” said junior Roy Caswell, a recent transfer from Harford County Community College, as he watched the game in R.J. Bentley’s. “You don’t see any schools that have won championships before do that. It makes us look like a bunch of hoodlums. You don’t have to burn couches like you’re in West Virginia.”
Ratner defended the university by saying that some who provoke the riots are not students and that rioting is not unique to the University of Maryland. She said was not aware of any Maryland students who would be charged in connection with Tuesday’s incidents.
“It’s been my understanding that it’s a culture at numerous campuses,” Ratner said. “It’s a culture we’re trying to change here.”
A way to combat the problem might be to plan more events for fans to attend after games to discourage them from venturing into the streets, Ratner said. But officials have tried that before, and they also launched a one-year sportsmanship campaign called Act Like You Know in 2002 to discourage out-of-control celebrations.
No matter what administrators do, Taylor said, they are powerless to stop fans and students who want to riot at all cost.
“Maybe the generational change will cause students to view it differently, but rioting will never go away,” Taylor said. “It’s what a lot of people I know come to this school for.”
– 30 – CNS-4-5-06