Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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November 28, 2012

How WVU’s couch-burning tradition spawned riots

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In the hours after West Virginia University’s football team beat the University of Texas Oct. 6, more than 1,000 students filled the streets of Morgantown, toppling a light pole and setting fires to the pole and nearby cars. Approximately 40 fires blazed that night and when the firefighters and police arrived to quell them, students threw rocks and beer bottles at them. Police eventually had to use riot gear and pepper-spray to break up the mob.

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A student jumps through flames set on Grant Avenue to “celebrate”  WVU’s football victory over Texas.

WVU students and fans have become notorious over the years for their rowdy celebrations after big sports victories or losses, including burning couches, dumpsters, cars and anything in their path. Fire-setting is almost a weekly occurrence, especially during football and basketball seasons.

Morgantown Fire Department records show that in the last 15 years, there have been 1,799 street fires and 633 dumpster fires, totalling 2,432 fires. In 2011, 40 students were expelled or suspended for burning couches and similar violations. But this year’s October riot was the worst fire officials have seen.

“We’ve had events in the past where things were thrown at police officers or firefighters,” said Morgantown Fire Marshall Ken Tenant. “But the riot [after the Texas game] was the most violent that I have witnessed in my career here as far as how the first-responders were treated by the rioters.”

In the aftermath of the Texas game, public outcry demanded that WVU and the city of Morgantown do more to prevent fires and riots. WVU President Jim Clements said to WVUtoday that he is angry and frustrated with this behavior and it will not be tolerated. The WVU Student Government Association sponsored a  “Speak-Up Tuesday” to discuss solutions and alternatives for post-game activities, according to The DAonline. Morgantown Mayor Jim Manilla suggested enacting a $20 fee to be charged to all WVU students, which would raise $1.2 million for the city to hire more police and firefighters to help curb the riots.

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