College Park on alert after semifinal reaction

Air of caution, energy around first title shot

Final Four

April 01, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- On the gray drizzly morning after Maryland's semifinal NCAA basketball victory, smashed-in windows and boarded-up doors competed for attention at a busy campus crossroads with banners and flags showing the school's fierce turtle mascot.

In the few open stores, students fresh from spring break and in a celebratory mood plunked down cash for anything red and reptilian -- even as they expressed embarrassment over their fellow fans' riotous behavior the night before.

Shortly after midnight, about an hour after a nail-biter of a game in which the Terps beat the Kansas Jayhawks, 97-88, a good-natured, cheering crowd of about 500 revelers turned into the ugly mob that police had feared.

The mixture of students and local fans packed the intersection of U.S. 1 and Knox Road, first baring their breasts and buttocks and then hurling bottles at police officers in riot gear. The crowd later vandalized two police cruisers, pelting the windows with bottles and ramming benches through the windshields. One brazen bunch stole flares from the cruisers and ignited them in front of the officers.

Police responded by firing pellet guns containing a powdered form of pepper spray. By 2 a.m., when the crowd was finally dispersed, a Subway sandwich shop and a bookstore were left with broken windows and doors. Prince George's County police arrested two people: Matthew Lee, 20, of Vienna, Va., who was charged with destruction of property; and Matthew Korba, 19, of Laurel, who was charged with theft under $500.

Campus police say they're bracing for more trouble tonight, with thousands of students returning to campus after a week off.

`Class, dignity and pride'

University officials sent an e-mail message to most of the school's 34,000 students yesterday, urging them to behave during the championship game "with the same class, dignity and pride" that Maryland's athletes showed throughout the season. It didn't mention the melee.

"We've been very clear all year about what we will not tolerate," university spokesman George Cathcart said last night. "We're concerned that an event of this magnitude is likely to attract nonstudents. They're not concerned about the reputation of the university."

Cathcart said that besides preparing campus security, university officials discussed safety concerns yesterday with College Park Mayor Stephen Brayman. Cathcart said there was little else the university could do to avoid off-campus trouble.

"It's too bad they do this. It's their campus," said Tim Noonan, a 1992 graduate who lives in Silver Spring, while surveying the boarded-up door to the Maryland Book Exchange, a privately owned bookstore on U.S. 1 that sells everything from textbooks to T-shirts. The store was closed for Easter.

Noonan was one of many alumni who combed the drenched and deserted campus for an open store selling fan gear. Most of the buying took place at tents pitched by souvenir vendors along U.S. 1.

`Going to be our year'

Silver Spring residents Bill and Shelby Rothrock, whose passion for Maryland was such that they were married at the campus chapel, swaddled their hairless cat in a Terps sweater to show their loyalty before tonight's championship game against Indiana. They returned to campus yesterday in search of a "Fear the Turtle" T-shirt for Shelby.

"They played a great game. Even when they went down early, I never thought they would lose," Bill said. "Ever since we beat Duke at home, I felt like it was going to be our year."

The Rothrocks understand the emotions that basketball can stir; Shelby said she was so anxious during the second half of Saturday's game that she read a magazine to control her nerves until free throws and sharp play by star Juan Dixon brought the Terps back from the brink.

"But that doesn't mean you can break in and steal things," Bill said. "I get emotional, too -- and I don't want to steal anything."

`Why trash your campus?'

Sophomore Lyndsey Kaplansky and her friend Hillary Savitt, who attends Monmouth University in New Jersey, returned from a week of Florida beach-hopping to watch the game in Kaplansky's dormitory with a crowd of screaming undergraduates. Kaplansky praised the team's "awesome" maturity, saying she could tell how much the players had grown since last year.

But as they eyed turtle-studded pennants and T-shirts at a tent along U.S. 1, the pair could not say the same for their fellow revelers.

"They're just a bunch of idiots. It's just unnecessary nonsense," Kaplansky said.

Added Savitt: "You won. Why trash your campus?"

Many who learned of the disturbances were asking themselves that same question yesterday.

"As an alumnus, it disturbs me. I have to defend the school," said Phuong Ho, a 2000 graduate who is attending medical school at Pennsylvania State University and who spent the weekend in College Park to watch the game with friends.

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