Deranged man in tree

A student climbed a tree during the celebration on Court Street. Photo by Cole Behrens, The Athens Messenger.

Ohio University students who participated in the Saturday night Uptown mass gathering in celebration of the Bobcats March Madness upset over the University of Virginia could face academic and legal consequences.

Students involved in the celebration were in violation of university policy, according to spokesperson Carly Leatherwood, and could be removed from in-person classes or even expelled.

In a statement, she said OU on Saturday received a couple anonymous reports of students participating in the celebration that provided no actionable detail. Students are required under university policy to wear facial coverings and maintain at least six feet of distance from one another, a measure that very few participants in the celebration abided by.

“We ask students to follow public health guidance, including wearing a mask, maintaining a safe physical distance from others, and limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer,” Leatherwood said.

Uptown patrons, many of whom were students, fled the bars in droves after the game and occupied Court Street in celebration, resulting in police closing the street in an effort to flush out the mass gathering.

Athens Police Department Administrative Lieutenant Jeff McCall said that there were no citations issued to individuals or arrests made on Saturday by the agency, though one person was detained. It's very likely, he said, that charges against some participants will be forthcoming.

Athens City-County Health Department Administrator Jack Pepper said in a statement to The Athens Messenger that the office is aware of the mass gathering and will be keeping a close eye on the count of new COVID-19 cases over the next few weeks. 

"We are strongly encouraging that in the event of another Bobcat win that the community celebrates in a responsible way; large mass gatherings could set us back significantly in our pandemic recovery efforts," Pepper said.

OU said it doesn’t plan to increase testing efforts following the Uptown celebration, according to Gillian Ice, special assistant to OU President Duane Nellis for public health operations.

“Our rates are still relatively low and we are monitoring closely. If we see signs of an uptick, we may increase our off-campus testing rates. Currently, all on campus students are testing weekly and off-campus, every two weeks. We are holding those who miss testing appointments accountable … As always, we will proceed with a data-driven and adaptable approach,” she said in an email.

In an email to all students Monday morning, Interim Dean of Students Patti McSteen encouraged students to attend a university-sponsored virtual event for the upcoming basketball game instead of reveling Uptown.

“I hope you are planning to celebrate, I urge you to do so safely. You are encouraged to attend tonight’s virtual Big Dance party or gather with your “bubbles” in groups of ten or less to cheer on the Bobcats.”

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