- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The University of Maryland basketball team plays the University of Texas at El Paso in the first round of the NCAA tournament today, which is a cue to Prince George’s County police to pack their riot gear.

Nothing apparently brings out the pyromaniac element of the College Park student body like a hard-fought college basketball game.

The students watch a game and then set Route 1 ablaze. This peculiar reaction is becoming a habit, if not an area of expertise that qualifies as worthy of a three-hour course.

There is a certain ‘60s-like sentiment to the “burn, baby, burn” faction in College Park, only in this case burning cures the emotional tumult of a basketball game, in good times or bad.

Maryland’s students tried to burn down College Park in frustration after the Terps lost in the national semifinals in 2001. They tried to burn down College Park in elation after the Terps won the national championship in 2002. On Sunday, after the Terps won their first ACC title in 20 years, at least a few students could not resist playing with matches again, setting two small fires on Route 1 while removing street signs and throwing objects at police.

Perhaps there is 80-proof lead in the water in College Park.

These students undoubtedly need to discuss the fire-basketball connection with a trained professional, just after they have been expelled from the university. There is something totally out of whack about it.

Somebody in short pants makes a big basket and somebody a zillion miles away grabs a can of lighter fluid and starts fondling it in gleeful anticipation.

Fire is the source of great comfort, it seems, so long as someone else is cleaning up the mess and paying for the damage.

Most students learn not to play with fire in kindergarten, which perhaps is a signal to Maryland’s faculty to consider a remedial course.

Those obsessed with fire are not inclined to pack up their belongings and toss them into a bonfire. That either is an act of omission on their part or a faint sign of brain activity.

Just guessing, but the fire-causing students probably would not think it considerate if you sought out their property and decided to have a good old time with it.

That recently completed 15-page term paper that is resting on your desk? Tell you what: Why don’t we stick it through a paper shredder in honor of John Gilchrist? Hand over your computer, too. Dropping it from a 10th-floor window would be really exciting.

Alas, it never works that way with the fireflies of College Park. Theirs is a one-way street, Route 1, to be specific, as the business owners along the strip know only too well.

Their property is usually negotiable among the fire-breathing fanatics. A brick through the window of a store is a message of sorts, distinct from fire, but in the same riotous family.

The agile response of Prince George’s County police possibly saved a few store owners from dealing with insurance claims this week.

The university is promising to punish the culprits if they can be identified on video, the obligatory response to a community that suffers from the behavior.

A basketball game should not be a bell that rustles a community out of bed in the wee hours, in slippers and a bathrobe covering a ripped flannel nightie.

The offenders, if identified, deserve a one-way ticket out of College Park, though not before paying their debt to Prince George’s County.

Prince George’s police are planning to increase their presence along Route 1 with each round of the tournament, assuming the Terps are up to the early challenges. That is a pathetic commentary, considering the compelling reason before Prince George’s public servants to pull against the local team.

The urge to cut loose is natural, hardly unique to those lugging around books in a backpack by day.

Most citizens, however, have the amazing capacity not to cut loose in a mob. A mob is an unthinking, careless form that inspires the worst conduct.

It is a good thing no one ever has been seriously hurt during one of these mindless affairs.

You can imagine the tears and words of regret.

The criminals would plead ignorance, insisting they were merely trying to have fun.

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