Crowd of thousands starts fires, destroy cars on State Street after Cats win; UK officials release statements

Fans celebrate after the UK vs. Lousiville Final Four game in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, March 31, 2012. Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff

By Rachel Aretakis

Madness is the only way to describe the celebration on State Street after UK’s win over the University of Louisville.

The street was flooded with fans, decked out in blue and white, who screamed and cheered that the Cats would go all the way.

Couches, tree branches and even a car was burned. At midnight, at least 39 fires had been reported, said UK Spokeswoman Kathy Johnson.

Related link: Cars flipped, fires started on State Street as fans celebrate UK win.

Nothing was safe from intoxicated supporters who rioted in the first block of the street.

“I feel really bad for them,” Madison Rogers, a history and political science junior, said about the owners of the flipped cars.

She said she and her friends stayed away from the car flippings.

“I think it’s embarrassing it went that far,” she said.

Multiple cars were flipped on Saturday night. However, fans still climbed on any vehicle they could reach, jumping and rolling the tires of the overturned ones.

This relieved mixed reactions from onlookers; some looked on horrified, while others cheered and took photos.

Related link: PHOTOS: Recap of Final Four weekend.

Those who live or parked on State Street tried protecting their cars by begging and yelling at others to not jump on them.

However, it didn’t stop the crowd from destroying what it could.

State Street could have been confused with Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but more extreme — all hell broke loose as soon as the buzzer sounded, securing UK’s 69-61 win.

Related link: UK squeaks past U of L 69-61, advances to NCAA championships.

But the partying didn’t start at the end of the game. Fans started tailgating as early as 10 a.m., playing beer pong and grilling out.

A few Cards fans braved the crowds before the game but were constantly booed by UK supporters.

“I’m from North Carolina, and this rivalry is so much better than that rivalry (between Duke and UNC),” Rogers said.

She said she wasn’t surprised with the chaos on State and thought the parties would last until early Sunday morning.

“It’s the best night of my entire life until we win the national championship,” she said.

Bed-sheet banners were just as common as TVs on decks of houses. Fans had UK tattoos on their faces, and a painted-on unibrow wasn’t uncommon to see.

Related link: VIDEOS: Car lit on fire, fans rowdy on State Street following UK win over Louisville.

State Street was closed during nearly the entire Final Four game.

Police released pepper spray on the crowd, which included fans on top of cars, almost immediately after the game ended. The pepper spray was released from paintball guns, which contained pepperballs.

During halftime, police walked in groups up and down the street, some carrying the pepperball guns. As they passed, fans cheered “C-O-P-S” instead of “C-A-T-S.”

By 9 p.m., fans uprooted stop signs on State Street and paraded around with them.

About 9:35 p.m., police starting forming a line in the 200 block of State Street to move people out. By 10, police had started moving crowds, and fans were throwing beer bottles and other objects at officers and each other.

Police were arresting those who were throwing bottles.

Hours after the game ended, fans continued to cheer as if the buzzer had just sounded.

The chaos of State Street was met with two reactions — enthusiasm and disappointment.

Bobby Sturm, a business freshman, said the celebration was amazing.

“I wasn’t expecting this street to be as big,” he said. “The street is being completely occupied, partying and dancing.”

He said he and his friends were in the crowd when the pepperballs were released but said it didn’t hurt his eyes.

Through social media, students expressed their excitement and pride to be a part of the Big Blue Nation. Many said Monday’s celebrations would be even more intense.

However, while students enjoyed the pandemonium, many fans on Twitter said the riots weren’t funny or classy.

“These students don’t know how awesome they have it,” Brandon Roberts, a 2007 UK graduate, said via Twitter. “Us students during the (former head coach Billy) Gillispie years could’ve done that but didn’t.”

Roberts said many alumni in their 20s were embarrassed.

“My feelings are pretty common amongst my fellow UK alumni,” he said.

Just after midnight, UK spokesman Jay Blanton released a statement:

“We appreciate the work of public safety officers at UK and Lexington in addressing the incidents this evening. It is unfortunate that a small number of people are using what should be a night of celebration as an excuse to attempt to tarnish the university and the community. To the extent that students are involved in any illegal activity or actions that violate the university’s student code, they will be dealt with appropriately.”

After UK’s win, Student Government President Micah Fielden tweeted to students to be safe.

“Let’s not do anything that takes away from the basketball team and their success,” he said.

However, Fielden doesn’t think Monday’s game will be as chaotic.

“The win over Louisville was huge because of the longstanding rivalry,” he said. “People were more riled up than normal.”

He emphasized safety for Monday, saying it is “too easy to get hurt in crowds.”

He also said that it wasn’t just UK students celebrating but also community members.

Related link: Kernel Editorial: Saturday’s State Street ‘celebrations’ disdainful, embarrassing.

The aftermath from partying around campus left Cats Cruiser shut down Saturday night and early Sunday morning due to street closures and conditions, university and LexTran officials tweeted.

By 1:30 a.m., all roads were reopened around campus.

Though State Street and University Avenue were cleared of people by that time, some fans continued to party at their houses.

And at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, the madness continued as some people were still out drinking beer, yelling and saying the “C-A-T-S” cheer.

People from around Lexington, as well as out of town, drove down State Street in the morning to view the damage. One woman called it “unbelieveable.”

Some Lexington residents were out early helping to clean up trash on State Street.

One was Charles Walker, a resident of 80 years. He was out picking up cans for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“People frown on you for doing it, but they don’t understand,” he said.

Reporters Alex Lovan and Becca Clemons contributed reporting.

Email News Editor Rachel Aretakis at Follow her on Twitter @KernelAretakis.

Word of advice for the ignorant. Do not park your cars and leave things you wish not to be burned on the street when we play one of the biggest games in 14 years.

Good coverage, Kernel staff. I understand that at least one of your photographers was injured during the basketball riots, and hope that they are recovering well with their sanity intact during these weird times when sports reporting may feel like war-zone coverage as fun disintegrates into a screaming sweaty mass of stupidity, violence, and vomit.
After Saturday night on State Street, I do not find myself wondering who these people are but rather shaking my head in disbelief to ask What Is Wrong with them? The answer, I fear, is far deeper and more disturbing than can be explained away by basketball fever: a pandemic of idiocy that will eventually lead to the collapse of civilization, no less.
@UK Studet, the title of this article doesn’t claim that thousands of people set thousands of fires. There was a crowd of thousands, and fires were set, and for every pyro there was a mob of supporters cheering and encouraging these gutless acts. Not hatin, just defending a well-written piece of news.

Glad even our own student newspaper couldn’t abstain from the media’s exaggeration of this event. ‘Thousands start fires?’ really? Thousands of people did not start fires, 39 did. Don’t make statements about our entire student body and fans based on the mistakes of a few people.

The majority of people on State St and around Lexington Saturday were simply enjoying the victory. Don’t be embarrassed, this is a proud time to be a wildcat.

I say use these photos to determine the identities of those involved and make them accountable in a court of law. Absolutley no point to this, beyond immaturity and stupidity. Sadly, we’re growing to expect nothing less from a significant portion of UK’s students. Too bad UK Admissions can’t screen to see which students are likely to be douches, and then deny them admission. Something like this would never happen at a REAL university.

Kool Beans ! It would be real kool if the UK Fans burned down their own house at Rupp Arena so it can be rebuilt to hold more of the same.