'No better time to be a Terp'

Basketball title seen as boost to rising university

Year of triumphs, tragedies

Title another gain for rising UM

April 03, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Standing on the dais at Cole Field House alongside his teammates a day after they became national college basketball champions, senior forward Byron Mouton gave the several thousand students in attendance a crooked smile and bent his 6-foot-6-inch frame down to the microphone.

"I know 90 percent of you all belong in class right now," he said, "but I want to thank you for all you did for us."

The line drove the students wild, but it was technically mistaken on two counts. First, many of the students who descended on the field house yesterday afternoon to bid farewell to their champion team - and to the arena that will be replaced in the fall - were there with permission. Many professors canceled classes so students could welcome home Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and the rest of the Terps.

Second, the ones with the most cause to be doing any thanking were the students and Maryland administrators who recognized that the basketball championship has further elevated a university on the rise.

"There is no better time to be a Terp than right now," said Mary Insley, a freshman history major from Cambridge who was screaming herself hoarse inside Cole. "I have so much pride in this school."

Or, as university President C.D. Mote Jr. put it, "This is the undisputed best team [Maryland] has ever had" and "the symbolism of this greatness is truly awesome."

Like so much else that has occurred at the state's flagship campus this year, yesterday's celebration was played out on a split screen, with the good news sharing space with the less good. While Terps fans were watching highlights of the team's march to its first national championship, police were starting to study a different highlight film: recordings of Monday night's post-game celebration in College Park by dozens of campus surveillance cameras.

The tapes will help police and university officials determine what discipline to mete out for mayhem that included revelers smashing store windows and vehicle headlights, and throwing bottles at police.

"We need to identify who did what," university spokesman George Cathcart said. "We expect there will be more arrests."

The post-game raucousness won a subtle mention from Terps coach Gary Williams, who told the students at the field house that they were "the greatest fans in the country" before adding, "I'm glad you're here today to celebrate this. I'll tell you what - this is the best way we could celebrate the national championship." One of the best things about his players, he told the students, is that they "have a lot of class."

Some students agreed. "We probably didn't do ourselves any favors with how we acted last night," said Matt Remsberg, a sophomore journalism major from outside Boston. "We may have diminished the positives somewhat."

So it has gone for the 34,000-student campus during this eventful year, which has seen the university's reputation and morale rise steadily higher - but not without a struggle. Last fall, its largest-ever freshman class arrived with higher SAT scores than any class before it.

A week later, though, junior Alexander Klochkoff was found dead on his fraternity house porch. Medical examiners attributed the death to the party drug GHB.

Two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 came the next blow: A tornado zeroed in on College Park, killing two students, trashing hundreds of cars and leaving dozens of students homeless.

Meanwhile, the Maryland football team rose from mediocrity, rejuvenating a dormant Terrapin football program and capping its season with a trip to the Orange Bowl. Yet students had barely stopped celebrating that when they suffered another classmate loss: the alcohol-related death of Daniel Reardon, a freshman from Washington, at his fraternity.

Now, a championship, followed by nationally broadcast images of students hurling curses at police.

"You couldn't have asked for anything more action-packed, and this is a great end to it," Mickey Massicotte, a business major from outside Philadelphia, said of his freshman year. "When I look back on it all, I look at the deaths as horrible, but everything good that's happened has overshadowed everything bad. I wouldn't trade this year for anything."

Seeking to capitalize on the sports success, university officials decided yesterday to resume the $600,000 marketing campaign they ran last fall, nicknamed "Zoom." Commercials promoting Maryland and playing off the championship will run on Baltimore and Washington television stations starting this week, Cathcart said.

Officials also expect the national title to boost alumni giving, an area in which Maryland has trailed other state universities. Already, the Orange Bowl appearance is driving an increase in giving: With three months left to go in the school year, the University of Maryland, College Park Foundation has surpassed its donor count of last year, with about 30,000 people giving about $50 million total.

The championship "builds pride, enthusiasm and interest among tens of thousands of alumni, some of whom may not have been paying much attention to Maryland before," foundation president Brodie Remington said. "The long-term impact will be a substantial growth in dollars."

Whatever good flows to the university because of the basketball team is merited, said the team's star, Baltimore native Dixon, who was rendered nearly speechless on the dais by the crowd's extended cheers when he approached the microphone.

"You guys deserve this," he told his classmates. "I had a great, great, great experience here."

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