WVU students fight back against postgame destruction
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two West Virginia University students are doing their part to end Morgantown's trend of destructive postgame celebrations.
Summer Ratcliff, a WVU junior from Bunker Hill, said the talk on campus the Monday following the Oct. 6 football win at the University of Texas -- and subsequent riots -- worried her.
"I overheard someone talking about how a light post was torn down on Grant Street. They were talking about how funny it was -- like it was cool," she said. "I spoke up and asked them to tell me why they thought that was OK. Why is it funny that people are destroying our city? He didn't have much to say after that."
The incident inspired her, along with a fellow WVU student and Morgantown native, Brady Tucker, to get students to speak up about the riots and destruction with a social-media-centered campaign called "Protect Morgantown."
The campaign asks students not only to be vocal about the issue, but actually to monitor areas where fires are often set.
"If your group stands beside a Dumpster for two to three hours after a major win, you could prevent one fire from happening. If we were able to get 20 to 30 groups in these high-fire areas, we could help our local police and fire department tremendously," the Protect Morgantown Facebook page states. "We may be able to save a life of someone whose house is really on fire and actually needs help."
The campaign was created in response to rioting by hundreds of students in the streets of Morgantown two weekends ago in which fires were set and objects were thrown at officers following the game. Officers donned riot gear and used pepper spray and chemical gas to disperse crowds.
Since then, WVU and city officials have been planning ways to prevent future incidents from happening.
School officials are cracking down on student punishment, Morgantown Mayor Jim Manilla has proposed a student fee to help the city's emergency personnel, and police are discussing an "unlawful assemblage" rule that would allow them to arrest both rioters and bystanders in future events.
"Protect Morgantown is a result of me reaching my breaking point. I'm tired of whoever is involved in destroying the city that I love and will always call home," Tucker posted to the Facebook page. "Couch burning was at one time simply a tradition of celebration. So what can we do? We can fight back. Let us be the rebels against the rebellious acts that are destroying the city we love."
The campaign's Facebook and Twitter accounts are sure to encourage students to stay out of harm's way and not to do anything illegal themselves while trying to prevent crime.
"We want everyone to remain safe, and if you ever feel like you're in danger, then we discourage taking any action," Ratliffe said. "But, if you see some kids dragging a couch out onto the street, step up and ask them not to. That's a start. What we're asking is simple. We just want to promote positive thinking."
In addition to sharing the Police Department's photos of the post-Texas game riots and urging people to identify the culprits, the campaign also encourages alternative thinking to show school spirit.
Protect Morgantown wants to partner with businesses and community leaders to plan a postgame event that would deter street riots and fires.
"If we do win a big game, people are going to celebrate. We want to have a place where people can go and be safe and be together as Mountaineers. I was in Austin for last week's game, and it was interesting to see a different student environment. You can have fun and have a huge student force behind you and not be destructive," Ratcliff said.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ProtectMorgantown or follow @ProtectMotown on Twitter.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.