West Virginia trying to curb celebratory couch-burning tradition
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
11/14/12 at 3:18 AM
NORMAN - At the beginning of the school year, West Virginia students carried a piece of furniture onto their football field, dropped it, and declared in a public service announcement: "This is a couch. It's for sitting. And sleeping. And losing your remote ...
"Burning a couch isn't cool."
You had sort of suspected it, after all of the realignment craziness, but that's when you knew: Oklahoma, scheduled to play football at West Virginia for the very first time, was about to enter a strange, new world.
"They literally burn couches?" OU defensive end R.J. Washington asked. "Why?"
"What does the couch represent?" asked defensive tackle Casey Walker. "What does it symbolize?"
"Whose couches are they?" cornerback Demontre Hurst wondered. "I've never heard of anything like that."
There are OU fans who have. Thus their trepidation about traveling to Morgantown for Saturday's 6 p.m. game.
Thus the reassuring voice on your cell phone. It belongs to Sabrina Cave, assistant vice president of student affairs and communication at WVU.
"We take the issue very seriously," she said. "The university is working very closely with Morgantown police and fire departments and university police to say, 'What can we do to stop this behavior?' We've put a plan in place where every weekend, we have a full-court press.
"We want our students to have fun and to celebrate big wins. Some of our alums say, 'Oh, it's cool. We always did that.' But this has never been acceptable."
There's an answer to Washington's question: Students have been known to commemorate wins by burning couches. It happened after the Mountaineers' last win, in fact, Oct. 6 at Texas. The Morgantown Fire Department reported 35 fires.
"That was actually a small riot up on Grant Street," said Cody Spellman, a freshman at nearby Fairmont State who grew up in the area, and who works at the Mountaineer World apparel store. "I was there when it broke out. I left before it got really crazy. Some of my friends stayed and a couple of them got tear-gassed. They ripped a telephone pole out of the ground. It was full on."
There seems to have been a time when "good, innocent fun" was attached to couch-burning.
"I had a friend come home from a game once and saw that his couch was on fire in the street," said Adam Beard, a WVU student in the early 2000s who works at the Morgantown Rent-a-Center. "They'd taken it off the porch. He thought, 'Eh, it's an old couch.' "
An answer to Hurst's question. As Spellman put it: "It's hand-me-downs, not anything leather or really nice."
Anyway, back to Beard's story: "He wasn't upset. He went in the house, changed and went back out to celebrate with the rest of them.
"I'm 30 now and I think it's silly. As I've gotten older I see where it's bad for the image of the town. Celebrate wins, celebrate your school, but don't go around burning things."
Over in Summersville, W.Va., Aaron Maloney puts the Couch Burner (boneless wings tossed in sauce and covered in jalapeno and bacon) on his menu at Maloney's Sports Pub & Grill. He was at WVU from 2001-03.
"The first time I can remember couches burning everywhere was after we beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 2002," Maloney said. "It was kind of kids being ornery, a party. You know how at Texas A&M, they used to have that bonfire? That was our thing, only we'd use a couch for a bonfire and celebrate.
"It's ridiculous now, though. You've got kids throwing bottles and acting stupid. Kids used to have a little sense after big wins."
In fairness, it sounds like a decent number of WVU students have a lot of sense.
"We worked after the Texas game with our Student Government Association, because a majority of the students were outraged," Cave said. "It was a huge win for WVU, and it was completely and sadly overshadowed by a few burning couches and Dumpsters in the Sunnyside area of town."
The SGA produced that public service announcement and considered alternative means of celebration, even a "controlled burn."
Student volunteers now distribute "High Five Rules" of behavior during games. There are "Gold & Blue Student Ambassadors" who seek out opposing teams' fans and answer their questions.
It turns out that WVU knew it would be a strange, new world for first-time visitors from Big 12 country.
"And first impressions speak volumes," Cave said.
She hopes her university will make a positive one on Oklahomans this weekend. Measures have been taken to increase those chances.
As for the Sooners themselves ...
"As long as I'm not sitting on the couch," Hurst said, "I'm good."
"As long as they don't burn my couch," Washington said, "fine."
"They burn couches if they win," Walker reminded "We're gonna try not to let 'em burn."
At West Virginia
6 p.m. Saturday
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: WVU trying to end tradition of couch-burning
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
A battered chair is placed on the side of the road for garbage collection in 2011 in Morgantown, W.Va. The chair is the kind of furniture that city fire inspectors were removing in an attempt to limit celebratory street fires after a West Virginia game. VICKI SMITH / Associated Press