Pole climbing hard habit to break

Florida fans jump from poles in celebration of the Gators defeating the Oklahoma Sooners in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 8.

Aaron Daye/Staff Photographer
Published: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 6:52 p.m.

How do you keep a celebrating Gator down?

That's a question police and University of Florida officials didn't have a good answer for during the street party that erupted after the Gators, again, won the BCS National Championship on Jan. 8.

With officers watching, and in spite of light poles greased with cooking oil, some fans couldn't wait to get off the ground. They scaled the slimy poles and climbed into trees to perch over a celebrating mob of about 28,000 fans jamming W. University Avenue north of campus.

And, while most people at the street party didn't seem to have any problem with revelers who climbed the poles and then tossed themselves into the crowd, police and officials said somebody could end up getting seriously hurt.

"Climbing up there is a safety issue for them. If they fall, it's a safety issue for those below them," said Lt. Mike Schibuola, who oversaw security preparations for the post-game celebration. "With all the stuff going on out there and the cars coming through, the poles turned out to be our worst problem."

At least one man was hurt after he did a head dive into the crowd and wasn't caught, police said.

Fans were told to the stay off the greasy poles. Officers got them down from the poles, and some were arrested.

But Schibuola said there has to be something else that can be done.

Among the suggestions that could be used if there's another street party next year: place barricades around the poles, use some type of device or substance other than cooking oil that would make the poles harder to climb, or have a contingent of officers form a pole patrol assigned to monitor the poles, particularly at 17th Street and University Avenue.

"Maybe axle grease," was UF spokesman Steve Orlando's joking answer to prevent pole jumping.

Overall, the post-championship celebration earned kudos from officers, who said there were few problems in spite of the thousands crammed onto the roadway.

Officers' main goal was to prevent a repeat of the basketball championship celebration in April 2007 during which a drunken driver, who ignored the closed road, fatally injured a police lieutenant who was crossing University Avenue.

But the allure of the traffic poles seems to be a hurdle officers can't scale any more than they can stop sports revelers pouring out of the O'Connell Center or bars along University Avenue and turning the road into a party ground.

With Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes returning for another year and talk already circulating about the prospect of a repeat national football championship, Schibuola was asked about suggestions for another celebration.

The officer said police would like to see some consideration for a celebration on campus and off the streets.

"We have to take a lot of precautions to secure that area," Schibuola said.

However, noting that neither police nor other officials promote an on-street celebration, Schibuola said, "I think everybody has the mindset that that's where you go."

Four national football and basketball championships in three years have just reinforced the idea of a street party, taking it from rare event to accepted tradition, officials agreed. That leaves police annually faced with preparing for the event.

Orlando said UF would "welcome" a conversation with police about looking for alternatives to the street party. But there would be challenges, such as trying to convince people not to head for the streets.

Part of the reason past celebrations have, in general, gone smoothly is because police plan for and deal with the street celebration if it happens.

"I'm not sure one of those challenges wouldn't be making people angry by telling people they can't do it," Orlando said.

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