No basketball national championship, no problem. UK students took full advantage of their opportunity to revive the couch-burning tradition Saturday night after the UK volleyball team clinched the NCAA championship in a 3-1 victory against the Texas Longhorns.
Students even added BIRD scooters and stop signs into the State Street mix.
“It was right after they won NCAAs, which is what we wanted for basketball, but volleyball will do,” said UK senior Brandy, who asked that her full name not be published. “I’m so happy for them, it was amazing.”
Brandy, who lives a street down from State Street, said that students set fire to a couch, then threw four BIRD scooters and three stop signs into the blaze.
It didn’t take long for a crowd of hundreds of students to form around the fire and smoke, alternating between chants of “C-A-T-S!” “volleyball school! “USA!” and “one more couch!” The smell of alcohol and the bonfire filled the air as crowd members took selfies, crowd-surfed and threw beer cans into the flames.
One student pushed another in a shopping cart, running at full speed toward the crowd. A student held a stereo on his shoulder as he ran around the fire, blasting the unofficial soundtrack to UK sports —“It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party.” Stop signs pulled out of the dirt where they belonged were loudly slammed against the ground. Chaos reigned in the spirit of celebration.
The volleyball team knew State Street was out celebrating from messages from friends. Senior, setter and the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Madison Lilley said seeing the support excited the team.
“Welcome to the bandwagon, everyone. We’ve been on it but it’s exciting to see other people on it, and, yeah, volleyball school and we love to see that,” Lilley said.
After watching the game, sophomore Eli Hudspeth followed some of his friends out to the scene, where students were “running around just being nuts and stuff.”
“I think it’s kind of cool. I think it’s a lot of fun, like, just something like the whole university can celebrate,” Hudspeth said. “It might be a little over the top, but I kind of like seeing the people come out.”
“Fun” was Saturday night’s buzzword—that, and “go Cats.” After a long year of COVID restrictions and a men’s basketball drought, many were eager to let loose.
“We knew when we won, we were going to State Street,” said one UK senior.
Police, firefighters and first responders arrived on scene after receiving calls about people gathering and pulling up stop signs. They stood on the outskirts of the crowd, watching the ensuing action but not taking preventive measures. At one point, a glass bottle was thrown in their direction from across the fire, narrowly missing hitting a firefighter on the head.
Lieutenant Jackson said the practice of monitoring the situation without interfering is typical in peaceful circumstances like Saturday night’s. There were no arrests or citations.
By 11:30 p.m., police had blocked all access to the street, preventing any through traffic but not dissuading any pedestrians from entering.
“You can go [onto State St], but anything that happens to you is on you,” one officer said when asked about the barricade.
A vast majority of the students were not wearing masks, and social distancing was not maintained in the frenzy.
“I’m double vaccinated,” said Madison Mindorf, one of the UK students in attendance.
Mindorf explained that she is not concerned about COVID because the university has opened vaccine appointments for all individuals over 16. She was there with friends Casey Smith and Macy Cider, all of whom were out at a bar when they heard people were gathering at State Street through Snapchat.
Cider, who had been there since the first couch burning, said that the first flames were extinguished by police, but the crowd eventually got the fire raging again. When the second couch was added, she and her friends wanted a better view.
“We went toward it, because we thought that was wise, and then we heard that they [police] were going to tear gas us, and we’re trying to jet now,” Cider said, laughing.
A little after midnight, as the flames of the second couch burning grew hotter, higher and more dangerous, firefighters ran in to extinguish the flames, as well as the celebration. Not everyone was ready for the party to end so soon. As the remnants of couch frames and scooters smoked in the street, someone set off a firework and a lone call of “one more couch” was heard in the night.
Nonetheless, the revelry was over. Unscathed couches and BIRD scooters of Lexington could take a deep sigh of relief—at least until the Wildcats win their next national championship.