Striking a balance between a college student tradition of revelry, a family-friendly community gathering and public safety is a delicate process.
It is worth the effort, though. Terre Haute will benefit from the coordinated plan for activities surrounding Indiana State University's Homecoming parade and football game. Homecoming Saturdays each October bring Wabash Valley residents and the campus together on the main artery of the city's culture and history, Wabash Avenue. It is a highlight of the local calendar.
Ideal Homecoming Saturdays involve ISU alumni, students, Terre Hauteans and their children lining Wabash early in the morning and catching candy tossed by ISU students on floats, members of civic groups in classic cars, firefighters and police officers, and politicians. High school bands and music acts entertain the crowd. As the parade winds down, Sycamore football fans gather in restaurants and pubs for lunch and beverages before the game. Soon, a healthy turnout assembles for reunions in tents at Memorial Stadium. Finally, fans file into the stadium seats to witness an ISU victory.
Assuming all goes well.
A spate of intoxicated revelers can taint the otherwise light-spirited celebration with obnoxious and potentially dangerous behavior. That variable flared up last year on the route of "The Walk," a nearly two-decade long ritual of primarily students and alums who trek from downtown to the stadium on foot, imbibing at bars and restaurants along the route. Fights, gunfire and underage drinking violations occurred last year, in many cases involving non-students from elsewhere.
For that reason, a new safety plan formulated by representatives of the campus, city, businesses and law enforcement is crucial. ISU President Deborah Curtis and Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett unveiled the strategy Thursday.
Its cornerstone appears to be an all-hands-on-deck police presence all Homecoming weekend. All time-off and vacations for officers have been canceled for that weekend, the mayor said. City, county, state and excise police will patrol Wabash Avenue. Bennett compared the law enforcement wave to that used to quell rowdy illegalities during the annual Scheid Diesel Fest. Ambulances will sit ready on Wabash and at the stadium 20 blocks away. Police and fire will ensure that any pop-up tents and parties will have permits and a safety plan. Tents must meet fire codes.
The scene at Memorial Stadium will change, too. Homecoming's popular "Tent City" will be downsized and move inside Memorial Stadium, rather than its usual location on the exterior lawn. Tailgating will be cut off at kickoff time and reopen for one hour after the game's end. Anyone using loud, abusive language or playing overly amplified music may be asked to leave.
It sounds like a lot of prohibitions and restrictions, but if the rules are maintained as reasonable guardrails, fun and college sports revelry can still happen. Students and alums can participate in The Walk without over indulging. Families can watch the parade, eat at Wabash Avenue outlets and take in the Sycamore football game without facing rude, drunken behavior.
This formula can work. And perhaps someday, the tactics will become unnecessary when ISU builds a football facility on campus or the riverfront, negating the concept of a two-mile journey from downtown to Memorial Stadium. In the meantime, Terre Haute seems headed for a safer, more inviting Homecoming experience on Oct. 12, when the Sycamores play Western Illinois a few hours after the parade.