03/26/2001

Penn police resort to pepper spray as unruly students crowd streets in State College

By Michael C. Spearing and Ryan Dougherty
Centre Daily Times
March 25, 2001

(State College, Pa.) - Several thousand people took to the streets and the balconies early Saturday following Penn State's 12-point loss to Temple in the NCAA tournament.

As cans and bottles rained down, riot gear-clad police tried to disperse the unruly crowd in a scene reminiscent of last summer's arts festival disturbance.

As revelers threw small firecrackers, police used pepper spray in their attempt to keep order. At least four people were visibly sickened after apparently being sprayed in the face. Emergency medical personnel were called around 1 a.m. for a report of a woman who needed stitches.

Police detained at least four people after they failed to disperse when ordered, witnesses said.

"I'd like to think this is to celebrate a great basketball season, but there's so many kids in this little area, I don't think the police understand the use of force will just get them more riled up." said Ryan Devlin, a Penn State marketing major from Irwin, Pa.

"Tonight, all they needed was to have somebody point pepper spray. It acted like (a) spark and started a big fire," Devlin said.

Several street signs were torn down and at least one unsuccessful attempt was made to topple a light pole. One sign was thrown into a parked car.

The gathering began as something of a celebration of the men's basketball team making the NCAA's Sweet 16 for the first time since 1955. The Nittany Lions defeated Providence College and the University of North Carolina before losing to Temple Friday by a score of 84-72.

"It's our crazy way to show our pride," said Lena McKelvey of Doylestown, Pa., a kinesiology student.

Before the disturbance got out of hand, police were seen leading cheers and posing for photos.

But just as last summer, chants of "We are Penn State" soon deteriorated into blocking traffic and throwing bottles.

"It's crazy. I have no clue why everyone's out here," said Sarah Gkonos, a marketing and international business major from Berwyn.

As far as the police response, Gkonos said, "I don't know if there's any other way. I don't know what I would do in this situation."

She continued: "The cops may actually make things worse, but they have to be here."

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