In 2001, a Maryland fan launched a bottle that hit then-Duke center Carlos Boozer’s mother in the head, causing a mild concussion. The bottle was one of many that rained down on the court in the Comcast Center that night, thrown by student fans frustrated that only moments before, the Blue Devils had executed a 10-point comeback to beat the Terrapins in the game’s final minute.
Duke’s games at Maryland have been littered with aggressive and offensive behavior from Terrapin student supporters ever since. But Maryland administrators anticipate student fans will have cleaned up their act for this weekend’s Blue Devil-Terrapin matchup in College Park. The administration has instituted a variety of practices aimed at squelching inappropriate fan behavior, including a pre-game sportsmanship video featuring head coach Gary Williams, open practices, student forums, T-shirt exchanges and song overhauls.
“There’s not going to be any weird surprises out there this weekend,” said Brett Tillett, assistant director of sports marketing for Maryland. “They’ve found a way to cheer on their team without being offensive.”
Vulgar cheers have been a much criticized staple in the Terp fans repertoire. During their game against Duke last season, students chanted “F--- you, J.J.” loudly enough for spectators to reportedly hear it on television broadcasts.
“Things have kind of changed since last year,” Maryland junior Graham Petto said. “We’ve gotten a little bit more creative. We’ve been getting ideas from schools like Duke and Wake Forest.”
To promote the shift toward less offensive behavior in the student section, Williams spoke to students about sportsmanship earlier this year during open practices and “town hall-type” meetings, Tillett said.
“I think it’s to fend off stuff from last year,” said Maryland senior Jeff Blass. “That was when everybody and their grandmother hated Maryland.”
Other events include offering groups of five to 10 students the opportunity to win Terp game tickets by performing community service and allowing students with offensive T-shirt slogans at games to exchange their shirts at the gate for a standardized shirt.
The administration said these efforts have been successful so far.
“You’re never going to reach every single kid, but we’ve reached the majority,” Tillett said. “We didn’t have any incidents in football this year, and we haven’t had any incidents in basketball—knock on wood.”
Although student participation in sportsmanship events has been high, some Maryland students are unhappy with changes that have been made to curb inappropriate behavior. The administration decided to eliminate a popular song featuring the line “Hey, you suck,” much to the students’ chagrin.
“There’s been a lot of groups that have tried to bring back the song and written letters to the student newspaper,” said Max Nickey, a Maryland sophomore.
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Despite enthusiasm for the controversial song, student attitudes during games have improved, Blass said.
“Fan behavior is much better than it was in the past,” he said. “It’s up to the students to make sure it stays that way.”