IU in NCAA final

IU in NCAA final

By Mike Pearson, Sunday Herald-Times

March 29, 1987

To say that people were dancing in the streets of Bloomington Saturday night would be an understatement.

Most were dancing on air above the street, such was the excitement that followed Indiana University’s 97-93 victory over the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in the semifinal round of the NCAA basketball tournament. In Monday’s final, the Hoosiers will face Syracuse University, which beat Providence 77-63 Saturday night.

Within minutes of the nationally televised IU game’s conclusion, about 3,000 people had gathered around Showalter Fountain at the heart of IU’s campus. Half a mile away, the intersection of Dunn Street and Kirkwood Avenue became a human cul-de-sac, as an estimated 1,500 revelers sang, danced, waved flags, screamed pro-IU slogans through a bullhorn, and rocked cars.

The Bloomington Police Department had fielded an extra two dozen officers to handle the crowds, two of whom stood nearby praying for no catastrophes. The Indiana University Police Department kept 16 officers out on the streets past midnight for crowd control.

By 1 a.m. today about 10 people had been arrested on charges ranging from public drunkenness to disorderly conduct and indecent exposure.

Bloomington Police Chief Gary Clendening, who was on foot patrolling the crowd, said he had no reports of serious damage to property or any serious injuries. “I don’t foresee us having any serious problem tonight,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to control it relatively well.”

By 11 p.m., streets at the Dunn-Kirkwood intersection were fairly clear of crowds, but were littered with broken glass and trash. An occasional bottle sailed from the crowds on the sidewalks and smashed to the pavement.

Clendening, looking on, promised that police on Monday night would be more prepared to keep a lid on boisterous celebrating if IU wins a fifth NCAA title.

Earlier, traffic was backed up for 10 blocks in every direction, while firecrackers, bottle rockets and war cries took the chill off the night air. And cars that did manage to thread their way down the street were accosted by hundreds of hands seeking the slightest excuse to turn one over.

“Basically we’re on the lookout for people who want to tear something up or hurt someone,” said Bloomington Police Sgt. John Coleman, whose own squad car had been used as a bongo drum upon arrival. “We expected a crowd like this. We just don’t know how long it’ll last. The last time IU won the NCAA championship (in 1981) people were in the streets until 3:30 a.m. But the next game isn’t until Monday. We’re hoping people will go home before then.”

Robert Jacobs, the owner of a small retail store called Greetings at the intersection of Dunn and Kirkwood, surveyed the scene with a smile on his face.

“There’s been a lot of pent-up frustration,” he observed. “I think IU has had a lot of tough breaks. That’s why these people are out here enjoying themselves. IU’s in love with basketball, and today’s basketball game was great.”

Around Showalter Fountain, where people streamed like ants toward a sugar cube, the atmosphere was electric. Although the university had drained the fountain a few days earlier – wary of the instance six years ago when it was filled with detergent and students took victory baths – people still swarmed the bronze statues.

At one point, bottle rockets exploded in the air, a chorus of motorcycle horns pierced the ears, and a small fire erupted in the base of the fountain as someone torched a Syracuse banner. Unlike at Kirkwood – where people exited bars carrying half-full pitchers of beer – IU police were most concerned with the sheer volume of people who filled the plaza at a rate of up to 100 bodies a minute.

Most of them were students, and all were predicting victory when IU meets Syracuse for the NCAA championship Monday night.

“I waited four years for this,” screamed senior Brian Belmonti in a voice choked with emotion. “Monday night is going to be pandemonium. They better get the National Guard out because we’re going crazy if IU wins. The freshmen just don’t understand what’s going on. Me, I waited four years for this.”

Debbie Argentum, 21, arrived at the fountain with a sign that read “IU Will Bruise Syracuse” and her dog, Ragu, in tow.

“This is Ragu’s first time,” she said above the crowd, “and he’s adapting really well. I’ve even trained him to have an IU bark,” which she then allowed the Labrador mix to demonstrate. “Come Monday, we’ll be back.”

A common sight on Kirkwood and at Showalter were parents with children, most hoisted on their shoulders for a better view. And although both scenes looked as though they might get out of hand, police reported few serious incidents.

“We’re getting a ton of calls,” said a dispatcher for the Bloomington Police Department. “Most are for vandalism to cars that are stuck in traffic and had people pounding on them. Someone also had a key that fit a frontloader at the construction site (on Seventh Street) in front of the Poplars and was trying to move it down the street. We sent an officer to bring it back.”

Other reports were mostly minor, she said: mailboxes were knocked over and someone set a couch on fire on Dunn Street.

Within an hour of IU’s victory, Bloomington Hospital reported a half-dozen cases transported by ambulance. Most were lacerations and ankle injuries that occurred around Showalter Fountain.

The celebrating actually began early in the day, with most Bloomington bars reporting capacity crowds by mid-afternoon. At Hooligan’s Drinkery in Dunkirk Square, where the crowd was limited to 200 people, the first NCAA game of the afternoon (Providence falling to Syracuse) was scarcely noticed as people played cards, drank beer, talked and drank more beer.

But when 6 p.m. rolled around, all eyes focused on the big-screen television, and the air seemed to swelter as the game seesawed for 40 minutes.

“There’s nothing like being somewhere where everyone’s pulling for the same team,” said IU student, Travis Brant.

Of course, IU didn’t lose. And given the frenzy of excitement that accompanied the win, you could have dynamited Ballantine Hall and not heard the commotion a block away.