COLLEGE PARK — — Maryland student leaders and administrators have joined in the most serious effort in years to try to change the fan culture surrounding the Duke basketball game. The goal is to limit profanity inside Comcast Center and end postgame scuffles with police along Route 1.
With the No. 5 Blue Devils in town Wednesday night, proponents of the change have organized a pep rally and other activities, created new cheers, and plan to distribute free apparel they hope will replace T-shirts that feature lewd slogans.
They have also seized on a powerful image — fire — to make their case for civility and sportsmanship.
For years, victories over Duke have been marked — some would say marred — by fans swarming onto Route 1 and clashing with police. Last year's win over the Blue Devils on Senior Day led to more than two-dozen arrests and allegations — probed by federal authorities — that police beat an unarmed student. In some years, the celebrating has included setting trash cans or trees on fire.
Among Wednesday night's planned activities is a meticulously monitored bonfire at Chapel Fields, which is near the bars along Route 1. The symbolism is evident.
"We're in a sense fighting fire with fire," said Staci Armezzani, a criminal justice and communications major who is the Student Government Association's communications director.
Other activities for "Beat Duke Week" include a pregame pep rally during which Maryland coach Gary Williams will address students, and several alternative student cheers will be introduced. Athletic department administrators often wince when students yell "You suck" after singing Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll, Part 2," which the university forbids the band from playing.
Maryland also plans to distribute T-shirts bearing "Garyland" — a tribute to Williams — and "Beat Duke Week." Students with lewd shirts at the game will be asked if they would like to wear one of the new ones instead.
Maryland has tried for years to clean up the Duke game environment. The push has new emphasis because the school has a new president, Wallace D. Loh, and a new athletic director, Kevin Anderson, since last year's game. One of Anderson's first actions as athletic director was to write a guest column for the campus newspaper in October challenging students to be respectful to opposing teams and avoid profanity. "To be quite frank with you, I don't want my kids around that," he said in an interview.
But Armezzani and student government president Steve Glickman said the impetus for changing the culture needed to come from students. "The administration could do as much as they want, but students aren't going to respond necessarily to being told they need better sportsmanship," Armezzani said.
Armezzani and others said it was Glickman who began the initiative late last year.
Glickman "went to Dr. Loh right after he arrived," said Danita Nias, a former Maryland cheerleader and 1981 graduate who is now assistant vice president for development and alumni relations. Nias said Loh asked her in December to chair a campus committee "to develop new traditions and strategies to channel students' energies around the Duke basketball game."
Among the new activities: a poster contest that 58 students entered this week.
Among the entries were a mock photo of Duke star Kyle Singler and other Blue Devils in black leotards with the caption: "All my Single(r) Ladies."
There was also a phony incident report of a Duke "bashing" in which the suspect was a "brown male reptile last seen wearing a shell hard as hell."
Maryland faces a tricky balancing act inside Comcast Center. While schools aim to prevent ugly behavior, many fear impinging students' First Amendment rights, draining excitement from the game-day experience or minimizing home court advantage.
When he was a freshman, Duke senior Nolan Smith was apprised of the difficulty of playing at Maryland. "They warned me — my teammates told me — this was going to be the worst," Smith said.
During a 2001 game at Cole Field House, Renee Boozer, the mother of then-Blue Devils center Carlos Boozer, was struck in the head by a full plastic water bottle thrown by a student. Maryland has since made it easier to discipline and expel students who riot. It broadcasts messages about sportsmanship during games.
Williams said Tuesday that "we do have great students here at the University of Maryland" and that "you want the college students to enjoy themselves." He said reports of postgame troubles at Maryland have often been exaggerated relative to similar issues at other universities.
But the coach agreed that celebrations can go too far. "Nobody is in favor of any damages or anything like that," he said.
Notes: The Terps (14-7, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conferece) have won three ACC games in a row but lost five earlier games — all by single digits — to teams ranked in the Top 25 at some point during the season. The Blue Devils (19-2, 6-1) were ranked No. 1 earlier in the season. "A win against a Top 10 team would definitely help us," Maryland forward Dino Gregory said.