Vandalism common during week of big game

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    By ELYSE HAYES and MELISSA ROBERTSON

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    Every year, the week before the University of Utah v. BYU football game, statues are protected and letters on mountains are guarded. Despite these precautions and the threat of a criminal record, many students from both schools continue to perform pranks.

    These pranks have been going on almost as long as the rivalry.

    In the 1950s, mammoth pep rallies celebrated the games. In 1956, for example, BYU students held a bonfire, setting fire to an Indian statue in a coffin the night before the game.

    Earlier that week, students from the U of U had plastered posters with pro-U sentiments all over BYU campus and painted campus traffic signs, trash cans and sidewalks in red.

    Students also used fire for other pranks. In May 1956, BYU students burned a Y over the U on the mountains east of Salt Lake City, according to “Brigham Young University: The First 100 Years.” University of Utah students retaliated by burning a U in the grass in front of the Eyring Science Center.

    Recent pranks have involved more paint than fire.

    Last year, volunteers guarding the cougar statue in front of Cougar Stadium saw the statue had been covered in red paint. Fortunately, said Sgt. Richard Decker, of the University Police, the paint was still wet, so the statue was cleaned off before it was permanently damaged.

    A few years ago, according to Sgt. Bob Eyre, of the University Police, someone put toilet bowl cleaner in the toilets of the public restrooms at Rice Stadium. The toilet water was blue for the game.

    The Y and the U on the mountains have been special targets.

    Maria Contratto, a program coordinator at the University of Utah alumni office, said she thought the U had been painted every one of the 19 years she had been there. Mike McPharlin, a University of Utah police detective, said it had only been painted four or so times; once, about five years ago, by members of the BYU ROTC.

    In 1991, a massive effort to paint the U ended in disaster. Three of 30 students involved in painting the letter were arrested and held in the Salt Lake City Jail, according to The Daily Universe.

    The Y has also been a victim. In 1996, The Daily Universe reported that a red “smiley face” had been painted on the Y on the mountain. The U of U’s attempt at painting the letter U on the Y cost BYU hundreds of dollars to repair. Ground crews used 20 gallons of white paint to cover up the vandalism.

    Pranks like these frequently backfire.

    In order to inspire his team, a U of U assistant coach painted BYU slogans on his own stadium in the early ’80s, said Sgt. Lynn Mitchell, from the U of U police.

    “It didn’t work,” Mitchell said. “BYU beat them.”

    If pranksters are caught, they can face criminal charges. When they cause damage over $250, they may be charged as felons and serve jail time, said Lt. Greg Barber, head of public relations for University Police. Pranksters also must appear in court and pay for damages.

    Recently, the two schools have tried to steer students toward less destructive means of showing school spirit.

    The Utah Daily Chronicle, the U’s newspaper, holds a contest to find a stuffed “Cosmo” on the U campus, said Eric Walden, a Chronicle sports writer. The week preceding the game, the Chronicle prints clues to the whereabouts of the imposter cougar. The first person to find it wins a prize. Walden said he thinks the prize this year is “a dinner for two someplace with ribs.”

    The Chronicle also sponsors a BYU campus visit from “Corky,” Cosmo’s alleged illegitimate half-brother, Walden said. This year, Corky tried ballroom dancing and playing musical instruments, donated to a charity, pretended to get beat up by BYU students and proposed marriage. Sadly, the potential bride turned him down, Walden said.

    Though in the past, BYUSA has sponsored events like a U of U junkyard car to bash, the organization has played it more low-key this year, said Aaron Fox, a receptionist for student leadership. Instead, the schools are combining in service. The universities are co-sponsoring a food drive for the Salt Lake and Utah County Food Banks; a competitive event in the past is cooperative this year. And the Army ROTC’s of both schools sponsor a benefit game-ball run.

    Between the volunteer guards’ increased vigilance of popular vandalism targets, the cooperative efforts between the schools and this tough period in the semester for students, the rivalry may be mellowing. University officials and police may be pleased by this, but others are saddened.

    “I talked to a student who said she won’t even go to the game — she couldn’t get tickets, and she said she had two papers due before Thanksgiving,” Contratto said. “When a good rivalry goes down the tubes, we are in trouble.”

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