Maryland students flash mob at Duke game

February 17, 2013

Students during the first-half ‘flash mob’ on Saturday night. (By Greg Fiume, courtesy Maryland Athletics.)

Sometime before Christmas break, Carrie Blankenship — an assistant athletics director of marketing at the University of Maryland — decided it would be cool to help facilitate a student flash mob at a men’s basketball game.

So she called the dance team coach for help.

“I’ve got the perfect person,” she was told, leading to the involvement of Megan Piluk. The senior had once helped plan a “So You Think You Can Dance” flash mob on the National Mall, and helped choreograph a Gangnam Style flash mob in College Park, so a basketball crowd was nothing. Piluk and Blankenship met several times, picking out songs and settling on the right moves.

Now they needed the right game. It had to be when students were on-campus, and on an appropriate day and time. The Duke game seemed wrong — students would already be crazed, with or without planned antics — but the date and time were perfect. Mob leaders would also need students willing to take their seats hours early to learn the routine, and the Duke game was ideal in that regard, since students would have been lined up outside for hours and would welcome a bit of warmth.

A few days before the game, Blankenship added a last-minute twist. She had received a bunch of e-mails pleading for a Harlem Shake segment, since that viral silliness was peaking in the week before the Duke game. Someone even sent along an image of a student named Nick, who owned a Maryland pride motorcycle helmet that would be perfect for the Shake’s introduction. Without ever seeing him dance, Blankenship decided to go for it.

Students normally would be admitted at 4:30 for a 6 p.m. game, but at 3 on Saturday, the doors were opened. By about 3:30, more than 3,000 students had already settled in their seats. (There are 4,000 student seats).

“I got on the microphone, welcomed everyone and introduced Megan,” Blankenship told me. “We walked them through the entire flash mob. You never know if they’re gonna listen to you or not. But they were very receptive, they beared with us and they really caught onto the idea.”

Blankenship had allowed an hour for students to learn their moves before the gates opened to the public, but the instructors were finished within 30 minutes. The flash mob would go at the under-16:00 timeout in the first half, and the Harlem Shake at the under-16:00 timeout in the second.

And amid the hysteria of a Duke game, the students pulled it off. Every section followed its orders. Nick with the motorcycle helmet turned out to be a swell dancer. The game was insane. Maryland knocked off Duke. Everyone rejoiced. And this video wound up adding a few more smiles to what was already a pretty swell day in College Park.

“It’s always great when your students are remembered for something positive,” Blankenship said. “This was just another reason for the kids to get excited.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · February 16, 2013