Tailgaters abandon Cooper Drive amid crackdown on pre-game partying

jcheves@herald-leader.comSeptember 29, 2012 

What happens when you don't throw a party and nobody comes?

Cooper Drive near Commonwealth Stadium was mostly devoid of tailgaters Saturday after University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto ordered a temporary ban on alcohol, DJs and bands in the area for the home football game against South Carolina.

"We've had no problems so far. Apparently, the efforts to get the word out have been successful," Lexington police Cmdr. Thomas Curtsinger said less than an hour before kickoff.

Capilouto said the move was prompted by fighting Sept. 15 when UK played Western Kentucky University. Tyler L. Bearden of Paducah and Luke R. Stahl of Bowling Green, neither of them UK students, were charged with disorderly conduct and other offenses that day after a UK police officer was hit in the face. Several other disorders also were reported on Cooper Drive.

By contrast Saturday, two large, grassy fields were vacant where hundreds of students usually hold pre-game parties. Only a few groups gathered soberly under tents along the roadside for cookouts and games, with plenty of elbow room between them. More than 150 Lexington and UK police officers stood watch in the vicinity; a Lexington police helicopter circled overhead.

"We were getting ready to deal with a big crowd when we were parking our car, but then there was nobody here," said Jerri Weitzel of Harrodsburg, who was eating snacks and playing cornhole with several friends in front of Bluegrass Community & Technical College.

"We're kind of liking it," Weitzel said. "No loud music, no fighting, no drunks."

Another member of her group, Michael Kennedy, a former faculty representative on the UK Board of Trustees, said, "I haven't been to a football game since 2005, so I don't know what they had to deal with here two weeks ago. Banning music sounds a little ridiculous to me. Alcohol I can see, probably, but I'm not sure what problem music is supposed to have caused."

Across Cooper Drive, The Collegiate, a student-centered apartment complex, had carefully chalked off a spot for its promotional tent early Saturday. It needn't have bothered. There was almost nobody anywhere nearby.

"From my understanding, there's usually a lot more people out here right now," said Jan Waters, the Collegiate's property manager, standing behind a table of brochures, blue and white cupcakes and bottled water.

Several UK students said pre-game drinking simply moved to other locations, including their private residences. But police said their intent was to keep calm in the core area along Cooper Drive between Sports Center and University drives, immediately north of the stadium. They seem to have succeeded. Shortly before the game, Lexington police reported one arrest for alcohol intoxication at Alumni and University drives.

"It's very quiet, very well behaved. There's not anyone there," UK police chief Joe Monroe said, referring to the area of the alcohol and music ban.

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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