Fans set fires in College Park

Crowds backing team gathers at Cole

April 01, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon and Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Stephanie Desmon and Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Hundreds of University of Maryland students and fans expressed their disappointment with losing in the Final Four to Duke University by setting five bonfires in town and on campus after last night's losing game.

Flames from one of the fires were so high that they burned an overhead electrical wire on Knox Road and so hot that they melted the front of a Ford Explorer, according to Maryland State police. The blaze was extinguished by firefighters.

By 12:30 a.m., no fires were burning. The campus remained relatively calm as police dressed in riot gear watched students throw furniture and debris on the flames. No arrests and only minor injuries were reported as of 1 a.m.

Two of the fires were on the College Park campus: one on Fraternity Row and the other in the center of the Quad, where the dorms are.

Maj. Cathy Atwell, commander of the operations bureau of the UM Police Department, said police had anticipated melees in the case of a Terps victory.

"We are very busy, but we had planned for a celebration so we have a strategy," Atwell said. "I certainly share the students' disappointment, and as long as the disappointment doesn't injure anybody or cause property damage, we'll stand by," she added.

In addition to the bonfires, she said, several smaller fires burned but were quickly extinguished.

One of the students watching the fires, Christopher Whong, a junior from Silver Spring, said, "We're doing it because we were just looking forward to it all week. It didn't work out, but it's less of a celebration and more of a shouting out in anger of the unfairness of the (basketball) officials," he said.

Whong, standing shirtless in the 40-degree night, resumed his circuit of the Fraternity Row bonfire, waving a Maryland flag on a hockey stick. "People are drunk, but people use common sense. It's all in good fun."

Tim R. Peak, a 20-year-old well driller from Carroll County who came to campus to watch the game with friends, said, "Everyone's getting crazy. It's not safe. Fireworks went off, and one hit me."

"But it's where everything's at." Said Dave R. Henly, a 20-year-old mechanic with Peak, "I'd hate to see if they had won."

For days, the Terps' rematch against the Duke Blue Devils was practically all anyone in town could think about, as days of waiting became hours and then minutes and then, finally, tip-off last night.

After the game, freshman Gavin Lehrl pulled his gray hooded sweatshirt over his head, as if he were trying to hide.

An hour earlier, the freshman from Hereford had been ecstatic, certain that the Terrapins were about to beat Duke and head to the national championship game. Halftime came and went with the Terps up by 11. The game ended with the Blue Devils winning by 11.

"They gave up," he said, shaking his head. "They gave up."

It was Maryland's first trip to the Final Four, and the historic campus was teeming with school spirit and the knowledge that the team had finally made it. Thousands of Maryland students filled Cole Field House to watch the game on the large-screen TV, screaming and jumping up and down with each Terp basket.

As the game was slipping away, the shouts of "De-fense," "De-fense" kept getting louder.

"I can't handle this," shrieked Natalie Davis, a freshman from Annapolis, when the score was tied 76-76, moments after Duke took its first lead of the game.

In the end, Maryland couldn't keep up.

The Terps fell behind as quickly as they had sped ahead, disappointing fans who had cheered them all the way. When it was over, the deflated crowd poured out of the building, some with tears in their eyes.

"Next year we're going all the way," said Meagan Urso, a freshman from Easton. "I have full faith in them. You can't help but be proud of them for getting this far."

Robert Choate, a junior from Bowie, who had been excited to be sitting on the court at Cole, said he would have been more excited to see a victory.

"I just could not believe the calls they were making," he said. "If I called home right now, I believe my Dad would be having a stroke."

Every person on this campus hates Duke," said senior Michael Brown as he sat with Dan Feinman, a recent graduate, outside the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house before last night's game.

Last year, when Maryland beat Duke for the first time in a long time, there was a bonfire on the lawn outside Fraternity Row, Brown said. There is still a telltale patch of scorched grass left as a reminder. "After we win, we'll probably have another bonfire right here," he said.

Feinman, who drove from West Orange, N.J., yesterday morning, said he knew what it would have been like if Maryland had won. He won't care which team wins the national championship tomorrow night, he said, as long as the Terps beat the Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament that Duke has seemingly owned for decades.

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