Getting the word out
A sample table tent that will be displayed in the Illini Union, UI residence halls and area businesses promotes celebrating responsibly. "We want people to have a good time and celebrate (Illinois basketball). However, violence won't be acceptable," said Lt. Skip Frost of the UI police.
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As the No. 1-seeded Illinois men’s basketball team headed into the Big Ten Conference Tournament in Chicago last week, officials on the Urbana campus and in surrounding communities had a game plan of their own: keep exuberant fans safe by promoting responsible celebration.
Officials from campus, community safety agencies and city governments hoped that through coordinated efforts with local business owners, landlords and community residents they can prevent post-game high jinks from turning ugly, as happened in recent years on the campuses of Michigan State University, Ohio State University and the University of Maryland and the University of Minnesota.
The Celebratory Violence Committee, a 14-member task force chaired by dean of students and associate vice chancellor Bill Riley, met weekly during the weeks leading up to the tournament to develop a comprehensive violence-prevention plan.
The committee, formed in September 2003 at the request of vice chancellor of student affairs Pat Askew, was charged with recommending actions to prevent or discourage potential violence related to athletic events and identify methods for promoting positive sportsmanship and responsible celebration. The committee includes representatives from the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and the Housing Division; as well as student leaders, officers and faculty members from the UI; government officials from the cities of Champaign and Urbana; and Urbana and Champaign police departments.
Other universities have had similar committees or task forces aimed to help discourage game-related revelry from erupting into riots.
The foremost component of the committee’s safety plan was a multi-faceted campaign that communicated behavioral expectations – and possible consequences for violators – to students and other fans.
“We’re getting the message out that we’re not in any way trying to inhibit people from having a good time and celebrating the success of the team,” said Lt. Skip Frost of the UI police. “We want people to have a good time and celebrate the accomplishments of our outstanding basketball team and the fine young men that are on it. However, violence won’t be acceptable, and we’ll deal quickly and decisively with any incidents.”
Men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber urged responsible celebration in public-service announcements that are being broadcast on radio, television and in the Illini Union, university residence halls and McKinley Health Center. Riley conveyed the “celebrate responsibly” message during Weber’s news conference on March 14.
In advertisements in local newspapers, student leaders are urging Illini fans to show respect for rival fans, the campus and the community through responsible celebration. Table tents, and in some cases posters, promoting decorous behavior are being placed in the union, residence halls and local bars and businesses.
Members of the committee, along with representatives from 45 other universities, attended a conference in Columbus, Ohio, in November 2003, to review events during the past few years where celebrations grew out of control. Hosted by Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota, police, students and university officials discussed strategies they found effective and those they found unsuccessful.
Sgt. Scott Friedlein, an alcohol enforcement officer with the Champaign police, has met with the owners and staff members of many campus bars to discuss violence-prevention strategies and showed them video clips of the Ohio State violence to “give them an idea what it’s like to be in a riot.”
Business owners, landlords, fraternities and sororities were asked for help in creating a nonhazardous environment by emptying Dumpsters and removing outdoor furniture, stacks of newspapers and bottles and cans that troublemakers might ignite or throw.
In its Feb. 1 report, the committee said that controlling the flow of alcohol in such situations is crucial.
“Almost all of the people who participated in violence and vandalism were intoxicated to the degree that their judgment was really impaired,” Riley said.
In response to recommendations in the committee’s report, the Champaign City Council was expected to amend its liquor ordinance Tuesday evening. The amendment will grant the liquor commissioner authority to impose emergency restrictions on retail liquor sales – such as restricting the hours and days establishments could operate, limiting drink sizes and banning glass and metal containers – for up to 48 hours when celebratory activities related to UI athletic events, other gatherings or civil unrest might threaten public safety, health and welfare.
In addition to sensible celebrations in public, the public service campaign also was trying to create alternate venues for celebrating without alcohol. Housing Division staff members are planning alcohol-free activities to encourage residents to stay in the residence halls and perhaps reduce the crowds in local bars.
And if we go all the way? Plans are under way to broadcast the national championship game on the scoreboard screens at Assembly Hall if Illinois is in the final game of the NCAA Championship.
As Champaign police found during the recent early St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Campustown, other universities where disturbances had occurred reported that the majority of people arrested for causing personal injury or property damage were people from outside the immediate community, not students.