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Wednesday, May 23,2012

OU student body gets attitude adjustment at the beach

Memorial Weekend Hilton Head migration an annual tradition for OU students

By Anna Luczkow
Photo Credits: Harrison Hess
Photo Caption: OU students Jon Hoelzel, Charlie Coe and Danielle Morris with University of Pittsburgh student Rita Foley and a friend at one of the Triangle Bars during the 2011 Hilton Head Island trip.

If one were to visit Ohio University this weekend with the hopes of delighting in the number one party school's notorious (and coveted, by some) status, any such expectation would be dashed upon entering campus.

In a scene that starkly contrasts with any other weekend in Athens, the usually beer-soaked brick stretch of Court Street will run dry, not a beer can in sight or a Big Mamma's Burritos wrapper to be found.

Any out-of-towner might speculate the switch from the quarter-system to semesters occurred prematurely, and the student population had been released into the wilds a month earlier, allowing this college town to shift back into its summer way of life.

But for those familiar with the natural habits of the OU student species, it's common knowledge that every Memorial Day Weekend students take their party skills and extraordinary tolerances, built up from the previous weekly line-up of spring parties and fests, and unleash them on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

"It's the culmination of everything," declared OU senior Kylie Toy. "Hilton Head is the ultimate fest."

"It's the highlight of my year," agreed OU senior Molly Smith, Toy's apartment mate in Athens and housemate for Hilton Head.

Toy, an Athens native studying communication studies at OU, said she has been making the annual exodus along with a huge part of the OU student population to Hilton Head since her sophomore year. "I didn't think I was responsible enough to go my freshman year," she acknowledged.

Toy said that when she arrived to the beach her first time she was surprised to see how many people she knew. This seems to be a common shock factor for those experiencing OU's invasion of the resort island for their first time. Hilton Head is located just off the coast of South Carolina, just up the coast from Savannah.

"When I first got to Hilton Head, I was in awe of the takeover that OU students had," said Cameron Hiller, an OU senior studying sports management. "It was a great balance between a vacation spot and feeling right at home."

Hiller, who has been migrating to Hilton Head for Memorial Day Weekend since he was a freshman, said seeing his peers in the beach environment is quite a different experience than in the classroom. "To see your classmates on the beach, you definitely get a different perspective seeing people shirtless for the first time," Hiller said.

Some students choose to partake in the pre-Hilton Head workout and diet plan; many continue this into the long weekend's liquid diet.

"I've noticed a lot more people at the gym," said Smith, who is studying education at OU. "But then again, nobody cares when you get [to Hilton Head]."

Toy said OU students cluster in a small area on the beach. "I think everyone that I know is going to be there (this year)," she said. "Everyone just becomes best friends there."

Learning a lesson from years past regarding the difficulty of finding friends once she lands the beach, Toy said she, Smith and their housemates are bringing a totem pole to stick in the sand, and posted a picture of it to Facebook ahead of time. That way, people will know how to locate their spot.

Smith said she has been going on this trip since her freshman year. Typically, students stay Thursday night through Sunday night, making the 10-hour drive back to Athens on Monday. Many even drive through Wednesday night to make it to the beach early Thursday morning. Some head to Hilton Head as early as Tuesday.

Smith said she and Toy are sharing a three-story condo with nine other female OU students at Seascape Villas, a popular location for student groups to rent out for the weekend.

WITH THE PRICE OF HOUSING, GAS, food and, of course, alcohol, it's no wonder how a weekend vacation to Hilton Head Island can put a serious strain on a student budget.

Smith said a lot of OU students begin saving up early for the trip. She said she plans to spend between $200 and $300 this year. To help save up, she said she and her friends planned ahead meals, including cooking up a taco and spaghetti night.

"Last year we tried to cook dinner, but it didn't really work," Toy added. "Something wasn't cooked fully."

However, some students who will be relying on nothing more than hotel amenities plan to survive on Easy Mac, peanut-butter sandwiches and yogurt for four days.

Toy said the smartest thing to splurge on is a mixed slushy drink from Frosty Frog Cafe, a popular frozen-drink spot that OU students rave about. "You have to go to Frosty Frog and bring it to the beach," she said. "People will go in there everyday and spend 30 bucks on Frosty Frogs." (And, of course, Frosty Frogs contain a respectable amount of alcohol.)

Veteran students like Toy and Smith seem to have their beach routine down cold.

"Going to the beach is definitely a minimalistic art form of bringing as much alcohol as you can in a closed container and the coolest inflatable toy you have, mooching off people for towels and sunscreen," said Hiller.

Hiller said he will "borrow" drinks from other people before he goes back to refill his own.

With iced-cold drinks and good friends all around, there isn't much reason for wanting to leave the beach.

"The bathroom is the easiest part about going to the beach because you have nature's largest Port-a-Potty right in front of you," said Hiller.

Hiller said that after students have spent the day in the sun, they head out to hydrate and explore Hilton Head's nightlife. "When night-time comes around, once properly lubricated with aloe vera, most people head to the 'triangle bars' in the middle of the island, where we enjoy the not-so-Athens dance clubs… and six-dollar drinks," said Hiller.

Another difference between Coligny Plaza (where Hilton Head's nightlife is located) and Court Street is the lack of late night food, said Toy, who said she will be bringing frozen pizzas with her this year to satisfy after-hour cravings. Toy also said many students try to take a cab to and from the bars, an accommodation students in pedestrian-friendly Athens are mostly unfamiliar with. Sometimes they can be tough to flat down on the Island, though.

WITH OU STUDENTS UNLEASHING their Court Street sensibilities onto the island, it's difficult to envision Hilton Head as the family vacation spot that it is.

Toy said that if families appear annoyed at the student party atmosphere on the beach, they simply pick up their stuff and move it away from the student throng.

Smith said she has only heard of students having the cops called on them if they're being too crazy.

But "crazy" by OU standards isn't the most universally applicable of criteria.

David Martin, owner of the island's popular small business grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, said that fortunately there aren't many families vacationing at Hilton Head Island this time of year.

"It's a perfect time for the college students to come," he said. "We don't find that much negativity in that area. Overall, mostly I hear positive things. [The students] tend to be pretty respectful."

Martin, who has been the owner of the family-owned store since 1996, said the only problem he sees is when the student rambunctiousness spills into the night. "The noise factor has become a bit of an issue for some of us local folks," he said.

Martin said this year the police will be informing residents of student-rented houses that the islanders want them to have a good time, but that they need to be respectful of the locals. "What we like to say on the island is, 'Respect the locals and we will welcome you,'" he said.

Given the nature of his business, however, Martin said that personally he enjoys the OU influx. "All of a sudden this little island becomes a college town," he said. "It's fun for us."

Martin said last year his business sold T-shirts welcoming OU students and this year plans to do the same with green and white shirts that say "Earn Your School Colors," which will be offered at a discounted price to those who show an OU student ID.

Martin said his store also has stocked up on cheap beer that it normally does not sell, since cheap beer sales tend to go through the roof the weekend OU arrives. The store also buys up inflatable cups, lemonade and ice ahead of time, Martin said. "We go out of our way to be open [to students]," said Martin. "We want to share our island – it's a beautiful place – as long as the feeling is mutual as far as respect."

Other business also will be helping students to stay properly hydrated on the beach. "It's a pretty big weekend for us, and we're always excited for it," said Rusty Jaquiss, manager of the Frosty Frog Cafe. "A lot of work goes into preparing for this weekend."

Jacquiss said that he has had employees stocking cups and making sure products are readily available. A bartender of the cafe for six years, Jacquiss said in the past Frosty Frog has offered shot and drink specials specifically on this weekend.

ALTHOUGH IT IS UNCLEAR WHEN EXACTLY Hilton Head Island became the ideal destination for OU students to spend their Memorial Day weekend, Jacquiss said he recalls OU's presence at Hilton Head for this holiday weekend as far back as nine years ago.

Martin said he first started noticing about five years ago that students from certain schools would flock to the island at specific times of the year. He said Hilton Head also is popular with students from Bucknell University, Colgate University and Ohio State University in the spring.

Sean Fitzsimons, a 2010 graduate from OU with a BS in sports management, will be making the flight from Hermosa Beach in Los Angeles, Calif., to Atlanta, Ga., and driving down to Hilton Head island with some friends.

Fitzsimons, a sales engineer at Keyence, said he's staying with 20 fellow alumni and two current Bobcats who don't have friends their own age (one of them being Hiller) going. He said his friends are coming in from L.A., Chicago, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte and Denver among other places.

Fitzsimons said the atmosphere on the beach hasn't changed much since his first Hilton Head trip four years ago, when he was crammed into a two-bed room at the Holiday Inn, in what he recalled as the sweatiest weekend of his life.

"I have noticed that more younger students are going," he said. "Or maybe I'm just getting to be an old creepy man."

Fitzsimons said he continues to return post-graduation for a number of reasons, the most important of them being to see all of his friends and the ridiculous shenanigans they can get into. "It's a weekend for all of us who have been out of school to get back together and relive the glory days with each other and also meet up with our friends who are still in school," he said. "Also, because we know exactly what we're getting into when we go back to Hilton Head Island, the trip is consistently the highlight of our year."

Fitzsimons said that as alumni, he and his friends have added a booze cruise to Savannah, Ga., on Sunday of their weekend stay that he said has really kicked the trip up a notch.

Hiller also said the cruise is one of his favorite memories, as he enjoys getting dressed up with his friends and being able to take advantage of the lack of open-container laws.

Hiller said that as much as he and his friends try to be on their best behavior, however, there are always one or two OU-esque incidents. He said that last year a buddy of his broke his phone in the pool within the first hour of arriving on Hilton Head, and the next day was lost on the island when he found his way into a bachelor party.

But Hiller said it's memories like these that keep him coming back for more. "I [continue to come back] mainly for the memories and having good time with the people I care most about," he said.

Not all the memories are positive, however. Some are downright tragic. During a spring break sojourn to Hilton Head in March 2007, an OU soccer player fell to her death from a fifth-floor hotel room, while trying to climb from one room's balcony to another.

WITH THE SWITCH TO SEMESTERS this coming fall, many students are speculating about whether the Hilton Head tradition will die out. Next spring, OU students will already be weeks into summer break by the time Memorial Weekend rolls around.

Fitzsimons predicted that not as many students will head back after this year, as summer internships are becoming more mandatory and students won't have time to take off. "It's a real shame," he said.

Hiller, too, said he likely will not come back after graduation next year. "At some point I have to grow up and become a real person," he said.

Hiller said he's sad that this will be his last OU-style Hilton Head vacation, but is excited to finish college on a grand note.

Perhaps, without the dread of finals post-Memorial Day (which Hiller said is a transition back to the classroom riddled with energy drinks and Advil), many students will still make the trip.

"I do still want to make it a yearly thing," said Smith. "It's such a nice place, and a nice tradition to do with friends."


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