COLUMBUS OhioWillie Young can name almost any high school mascot in Ohio.
Big Walnut in central Ohio? The Eagles. Centerville near Dayton? The Elks. Strongsville, southwest of Cleveland? The Mustangs.
It’s a nifty habit Young uses as an icebreaker with Ohio State University students. But it’s not a trivial pursuit.
Young’s job is to keep post-football game beer blasts in the neighborhoods around Ohio State, the country’s largest campus at 52,568 students, from tripping the switch from parties to riots.
The director of off-campus student services, Young was on the scene the day after a party that started on Sept. 15 got out of hand early the next morning, talking to off-campus residents to prevent a repeat performance.
At the party dubbed “15 on the 15th” that’s 15 as in kegs of beer, 165 12-ounce cups to a keg police faced a crowd of more than 300 “yelling, screaming, throwing objects, and fighting,” according to a Columbus police description of the event.
Students “want to have a good time, and they don’t set out as a rule to get in trouble, but sometimes they just find that they cannot control the number of people that come to their parties,” Young says.
Where an outsider sees students succumbing to their own worst behavior, Young sees opportunity.
“Every flower doesn’t bloom the first day of spring,” he likes to say.
Another saying: There are three P’s in life.
“Where you have people you’re going to have problems but you have potential, and so we’re looking for the potential,” Young says.
On most fall Friday and Saturday nights, when a lot of people his age might be hitting the couch or heading to bed, Young, 58, climbs into his white OSU van and starts his rounds.
First he cruises the streets east of campus, checking out the beer pong tournaments on porches teams try to land ping pong balls in cups of beer which their opponents then drink. Or he carefully counts yards surrounded with orange plastic fencing, a sign of an upcoming party.
Saturdays around 10 p.m. Young parks the van near the Ohio State law school and observes what he calls the migration: students living in dormitories heading toward the land of the off-campus parties.
He opens a notebook, begins writing down patterns. How many male students. How many female. Who’s black, who’s white.
“What party are you going to?” he asks a young man on a recent October night.
“Not a clue,” the man replies.
Young dissects partying like a seasoned wildlife biologist.
Students migrate in packs, he explains, because it’s easier to enter the large, more preferable parties in the anonymity of a group.
One gauge of the party scene is the number of young men carrying cases of Natural Light beer $5.49 for a 12-pack.
Another gauge: the “hoochie” index, Young’s name for the count of young women dressing provocatively in hopes of crashing closed parties.
Young’s pet peeve? Beer in bottles, because bottles have a habit of turning into projectiles.
His bigger pet peeve? Beer served from kegs, which makes it harder to track your drinking.
“Kegs are just irresponsible,” Young says.
Young grew up in Cleveland and went to Bowling Green State University. He’s an Ohio State fan who hasn’t missed a homecoming game at his own alma mater in 40 years.
Signed footballs crowd his cluttered office. Heisman trophy winners. O.J. Simpson. Franco Harris. A prized possession: the autograph of Muhammad Ali, earned when Young spied the fighter at a Chicago restaurant in 1974.
Young stays optimistic despite the chaos he has to control.
“I’m out there just to hopefully help them enjoy the college life,” he says. “These are probably four of the best years you’ll have but hopefully you don’t establish bad patterns that will continue till later years.”
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