Celebrations for both Wildcats and Badgers spill onto State Streets

jmadden@herald-leader.comApril 4, 2014 

The streets share a name but are nothing alike. In fact, they are more than 500 miles apart.

One cuts through the heart of downtown on a stretch that encompasses the local university, state capitol and several retail stores, bars and clubs. The other is tucked into a residential neighborhood filled with bungalows and ranches, duplexes and triplexes several blocks from campus and downtown.

However, the State streets in Madison, Wis., and Lexington have this in common: They were popular gathering areas last weekend as fans celebrated NCAA Tournament wins, and both received national attention.

University of Wisconsin fans gained attention last Saturday after the Badgers out-scrapped Arizona in the NCAA tournament West Regional final. Fans flooded State Street, creating a buzz on social media and beyond after ESPN showed a video of the celebrations.

Once the Badgers won in overtime, everyone just felt the urge to head to State Street, said Katherine Krueger, editor-in-chief of the university's student newspaper, The Badger Herald.

The fans celebrated by uprooting a sign and standing on buses and on construction sites, she said. No couches were burned. People were ticketed, but no one was arrested.

The following day, Lexington's State Street was in the news again. The celebration erupted after a three-point bucket with seconds left sealed UK's spot in the Final Four.

Thousands flooded South Limestone and State streets, sprinting from bars and houses chanting "C-A-T-S! CATS! CATS! CATS!"

High fives, hugs and laughter were soon followed by police in riot gear, fireworks, fires, a muddy Slip N' Slide and flying beer bottles.

As of Monday, three people had been arrested, and firefighters said they had extinguished more than 50 fires.

State Street has taken the crown from Woodland and Euclid avenues as the place to party after the Cats' tournament wins.

Rachel Aretakis, editor-in-chief of UK's student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, has kept close watch on State Street's change.

"The police were prepared, so it was nothing compared to what two years ago looked like, so all the cars were safe," she said.

Social media has served as a conduit between fans and celebrations in Madison and Lexington, sparking a war of the cities' State streets with the question being: Who parties the hardest?

Lexington's State Street has grown so popular that it has trended during the tournament, and now it has its own Twitter account. Braxton Williams, 20, created @UK_StateStreet, a Twitter handle that has gained over 1,000 followers.

"There was an outrageous amount of tweets being sent out about State Street so I figured everyone would like an account where they wouldn't miss any of the action of not only the crazy parties, but also the trip to the Final Four," Williams said.

Concerns about celebrations

After Wisconsin's victory, Madison Police Department spokesman Joel De Spain said city officials estimated there were 10,000 fans celebrating, something that hasn't been seen since the school's last Final Four appearance in 2000.

"We didn't have anybody with significant injuries or arrests," De Spain said.

Madison does not allow alcohol outside of taverns, so a few people were cited for open containers. Small fires were started on the outskirts of State Street but were put out quickly. Badger fans left State Street before midnight.

Meanwhile, State Street in Lexington emerged as the epicenter of rowdy celebrations in 2012, when UK went on a run that ended with their eighth NCAA title. There were dozens of arrests and multiple couch fires; a car was overturned and burned.

Things have been more peaceful recently, officials have said.

Lexington police estimated that 8,000 people swarmed the rooftops, balconies and lawns of State Street last weekend, and an estimated 5,000 were on South Limestone.

Couches, chairs and other items were burned. Firefighters made eight emergency runs due to falls, flying bottles or alcohol-related accidents, but there were no reports of life-threatening injuries. There were only three arrests.

Still, the recent celebrations have drawn concern from city and university officials and campus and local police. Multiple messages were sent out in the past couple of weeks urging fans to celebrate safely.

Second District Councilwoman Diane Lawless said most who live on State Street are students, and she said she has received calls from people who fear for their safety.

Lexington's Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Best sent out a news release this week telling fans not to start fires.

"In crowded situations, there is no such thing as a 'peaceful celebration fire.' Although you might be exercising caution, if those around you aren't, you are in danger," the release said.

Lexington police will be patrolling State Street on Saturday and sticking to their plan, regardless of what happens on the court. To hear the fans of Big Blue Nation tell it, the Badgers are going down, and Lexington's State Street will see yet another celebration Saturday night.

"I just recently heard about this street in Madison, and the only reason I did hear about it was because of tweets making fun of it," Williams said. "All jokes aside, though, I truly believe there are no crazier fans than in the good ol' BBN."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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