Ohio University last week announced a new route for its annual Homecoming parade in 2012, and the reaction around town has ranged from dubious to downright angry.
In previous years, the parade began at the intersection of Morris Avenue and East State Street, went up Carpenter Street and traveled the length of Court Street all the way to the OU campus. It would break up down near the Convocation Center.
Under the new route planned for the Oct. 13 Homecoming celebration, participants will first line up at Factory Street (near the old Athens train depot). The parade will then turn right onto West Union Street, right onto South Court Street, left onto Park Place, right onto University Terrace and end up at the Ping Center parking lot for dispersal.
Officials began discussing a new route after Athens City Council and others expressed concern about the safety of the old route, and the amount of rowdy behavior from students watching the parade from in front of Court Street bars.
Now alumni, students and residents are expressing a variety of concerns about the new route. Many responded to a solicitation for opinions on Facebook.
"Boo," said Athens County resident Debbie Allen. "(The) sounds of the Marching 110 reverberating up the 'canyon' of N. Court gave a body goose bumps. No more."
Alumnus Nate Gilcher said he would keep his statement simple: "Worst. Parade. Route. Ever."
Others looked at the new route from a commercial standpoint.
"I predict a huge boom in Homecoming business for BW3 and Jackie O's," said Athens County resident Corinne Colbert.
A chief concern among those advocating a new route was the rowdiness of the bar crowd near the intersection of North Court and West State streets.
Homecoming is the number-one money-making weekend for most bars in Athens, better even than Halloween. Many bars along Court Street open early on Homecoming weekend, between 7 and 9 a.m., to cater to alumni having "kegs and eggs" as they wait for the Homecoming parade.
Bar-owners suggested alternatives such as putting up barricades and methods to disperse crowds more evenly throughout Court Street, but McDavis and the advisory committee opted instead to divert the parade route away from the area entirely.
Some commentators on The Athens NEWS' website said that the bars are getting what was coming to them.
"They are a cancer on our institution, and I hope this serves as a strong reminder to them that they have a responsibility to the town and the institution that makes their businesses possible," the unidentified individual wrote.
On their end, bar owners have complained that the university has attempted to tell them what to do instead of trying to work together. Several years ago, McDavis met with uptown bar owners to request that they not open so early on Homecoming. He later characterized that as one of the worst meetings he's experienced as OU president. The bar owners declined his request.
"McDavis wants to tell us not to open until after the parade. Can't he tell the fraternities and sororities not to drink?" Tony Sylvester, owner of Tony's Tavern, asked previously. "He has more authority over them than he has control over private businesses."
Other commentators pointed out that the new route still passes a number of bars, including W.G. Grinders, the Smiling Skull, Cat's Den, BW3, Jackie O's and the Union.
But the loss of the vast majority of Court Street seems to be the main sticking point for some critics. OU student Karah Finan said that she works in the university library, where she has seen Homecoming photos dating back to the 1950s and before. Those pictures show the parade coming down Court Street, she said.
Finan questioned why McDavis didn't consult with students more before making the decision. "Gone is the chance to compare parade photos from decades and decades before to ones in the future Homecoming parades. This really is a shame, throwing away over 60 years of tradition for the (OU) and Athens community."
And yet others complained about the length of the new route.
"If they shorten the route any more, it won't be a parade; it'll be a cake walk," said Marching 110 alumnus Paul Shellhammer. "Why not just have the parade start at Chubb (Hall) and end at Alden (Library)? Any further than that and you might risk 'passing a bar.' OH NO!"
Others called the new route outright "stupid," saying that it limits performance space for the Marching 110; goes uphill (on West Union) for a large part of the route and complicates the line-up process at the beginning of the parade.
"Horrible plan," said one commentator. "The 110 alumni band is expecting to have the largest turnout in history as the weekend is honoring late Director Ronald Socciarelli. They can't fit on any open stretch of the parade route to perform…"
But there was at least one person who applauded the new route, commending the committee working to make the route more safe.
"As someone who marched down Court Street last year, I was horrified at drunk students/alumni who risked the safety of myself and others all in the name of 'fun.' I didn't appreciate that at all," the commentator wrote. "Kudos to McDavis and the OHIO administration, staff, faculty and students who risked negative feedback to make the parade for this year exciting, fun and safe."