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Riots Mar Celebration of UMD Women's Basketball Title

By Jon Fogg
Capital News Service
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - University of Maryland students and fans clashed with police in riot gear following the school's victory in the women's basketball national title game late Tuesday night, echoing unruly celebrations associated with the men's team in recent years.

Terrapin fans flooded downtown College Park immediately following the team's 78-75 overtime win over archnemesis Duke University in the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship, setting bonfires, uprooting road signs and hurling bottles at police, who used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. No one was arrested, but a woman was seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident, Prince George's County Police said.

"This is the University of Maryland, and it's not the first time this has happened," said Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a County Police spokesman. "This seems to be the tradition. The university is going to have to look into it, but that's up to them."

In 2002, riots racked post-game celebrations as the Maryland men's basketball team ascended to the national championship. Eighteen people, none of whom were students, were arrested. A year earlier, a bonfire set by fans following a loss to Duke in the Final Four caused $500,000 in damage.

The riots occurred only a day after the University Senate passed a new policy allowing the university to expel students for off-campus rioting, but the policy has yet to be signed by university President C. Dan Mote Jr. Previously, only students convicted of a crime could be disciplined by the university for off-campus conduct.

The Prince George's County Fire Department reported a half-dozen fires, including a burned chair at the 7500 block of Dickinson Street, said department spokesman Mark Brady.

Maj. Cathy Atwell, a University Police spokeswoman, said there were no reports of property damage.

Atwell said she was not surprised that fans flocked to Route 1 to celebrate, noting that it was the first national championship for the women's team. But she said the nature of the celebrations were unacceptable.

"It is not good for Maryland fans to come in the street and burn things," she said.

Some students, however, said police instigated the crowd.

"I think it's a little extreme," said sophomore Michael Green, who added that he saw someone shot with a beanbag by police. "No one expected this."

Before and during the game Tuesday, many people said they were not expecting a post-game celebration. But moments after a last-second 3-point shot by Duke bounced off the rim, hundreds of fans poured out of Cornerstone Grill & Loft, the Santa Fe Cafe and other establishments and quickly clogged Route 1.

Moments later, a teenage female was struck by a car and seriously injured at Route 1 and Knox Road, Brady said. The woman was taken to a local hospital and was listed in critical but stable condition as of 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. Brady said he could not provide further information about the victim due to privacy laws.

Undeterred by the ambulances, fans ripped road signs from the ground and lit them on fire a few feet from where the accident happened, and hundreds more rushed down Knox Road from campus to join the party as a police helicopter circled overhead.

"I didn't expect it at all," junior Eric Fidler said as popular anti-Duke chants boomed from the throng. "It started with just a few people, and people started pouring out from campus. I don't think traffic is going to get through for a while."

When a university shuttle bus tried to wade through the intersection, people gathered on one side and rocked the bus violently from side to side, nearly overturning it.

At 11:45 p.m., a line of police officers wielding batons and shields forced the crowd onto Knox Road. Rioters threw at least three bottles -- one glass -- at police, who used pepper spray to repel the crowd.

Fans responded by throwing flaming T-shirts, screaming expletives at police and chanting "We want horses!" -- a reference to the 2002 riots, when mounted police were called to quell the crowds.

Just after a group lit a trash can on fire and threw it onto Knox Road, about 20 police officers formed a line in front of Wawa and told the crowd downtown College Park was closed for an hour.

The officers continued into a parking lot between 7-Eleven and the South Campus Commons, and the revelers gave way, but refused to retreat. Some hurled rocks, while others banged on an air conditioning unit.

A group of fans pushed a boulder down a hill in the direction of police, who retaliated by firing what appeared to be rubber bullets or beanbags. Copeland could not confirm if police used a deterrent other than pepper spray, and he said no injuries had been reported.

"The school's just tired of the whole rioting thing," Green said, "and they're trying to get rid of it."


Copyright 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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