A Riot of Passage at U-Md.
Thursday, April 6, 2006
When one woman saw the growing crowd waiting inside the student union to watch the basketball game -- the women's basketball game -- she turned to her friend with a look of concern.
"Are you serious? There's a line? For this?"
After junior Ace Morris watched a particularly dazzling first-half layup, he said, "Oh, she didn't do that! She didn't do that!" then turned around in his seat and told his guy friend, "She better than you."
And when students burned T-shirts in the streets of College Park and tried to tip over a shuttle bus after the University of Maryland women's basketball team defeated Duke University for the National Championship on Tuesday night, senior Shelley Avny said this:
"I've been to all the men's riots, and this is even crazier."
"Go women," a female friend said.
If there was a theme to the commentary on the Maryland campus the past few days, it was comparison: How did this team compare with a men's team? How did this disturbance compare with earlier ones? Many students discussed the game as if some battle of the sexes were at stake, and a victory for Maryland's women's team was a victory for women.
Even as the players returned to campus from Boston yesterday to bask in their win, the comparisons continued. Thousands of joyous students celebrated their return at the outdoor campus amphitheater. When the men's basketball team won its NCAA championship, the celebration was held in the much larger Cole Field House. Earlier, the student newspaper had written that in an "unscientific survey" only 11 of 100 students could name two members of the women's team, in contrast to the marquee nature of the men's players.
Coach Brenda Frese thanked the cheering students for their support and told the crowd: "I did a scientific poll last night in the lobby, and I figured out that this team has arrived."
But even after winning it all, Frese had a simple request: Come to the games next year.
"If we're going to have the best fans in the country, we need you back supporting the team," Frese said. "Next year we want you to fill the student section."
The pouring of an estimated 1,000 students into the streets of College Park on Tuesday night also fostered comparisons. When the men's team has played Duke, students and others have broken windows, set fires and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Tuesday night's revelry turned out to be less damaging than in previous years. There were no arrests and no reports of destruction of property, said Maj. Cathy Atwell of the university police.
Still, an 18-year-old female student was injured in a hit-and-run accident just as the celebration moved out from the College Park bars and onto Route 1, said Atwell. Police said the student suffered a broken ankle.
"We did not anticipate a large response to the Maryland win, because we had not had any history with that with the women's team," Atwell said. But officers from Prince George's County and university police kept things "pretty much under control. It didn't last very long."
The mood on the streets was an odd mix of ironic self-awareness -- a "look at us, we're rioting" attitude -- combined with brief moments of real fear and danger. With the smell of smoke in the night air from small street fires, officers in riot gear marched in formation and blasted pepper spray toward the throng of students. The fans would turn and run en masse, then stop and inch back toward police. At one point, more than a dozen were sprawled in the middle of Knox Road as if they were ready to put their lives on the line.
"We want horses! We want horses!" fans taunted the cops, making reference to earlier celebrations -- for the men -- when mounted police quelled the crowd.
"We're being stupid. We're laughing at ourselves," said sophomore Ben Schneider.
But some revelers threw beer bottles, tore down signs, tried to push over a bus and rolled a massive boulder into a parking lot.
"It's not acceptable for people to engage in criminal activity," Atwell said. "When people use the word 'celebration' to justify starting fires or throwing bottles or pushing rocks, we just can't tolerate that."
The University Senate recently approved a disciplinary policy that permits administrators to expel or suspend students for rioting off campus even if they are not convicted of a crime. College President C. Daniel Mote Jr. is expected to approve the policy, said university spokesman Millree Williams.
"Dr. Mote believes strongly that the poor judgment of a few should not taint the good behavior of the many," he said.
University police will be reviewing video of the student demonstration to see "if they can identify people involved in riot-related behavior or criminal activity, and those people will be put into the judicial process."
Still, several students said flooding the streets and setting fires were signs the women's team had finally been accepted.
"For us to have done that," said junior Amelia Faiola, "means they mean something to us."