The “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” will have to find a new place to pre-game this weekend.
Glynn County officials are trying to stamp out underage drinking and increasingly rowdy behavior at “Frat Beach,” a popular St. Simons Island party spot for UGA students who go to the Georgia-Florida game in nearby Jacksonville, FL. “We felt like something needed to be done,” Glynn County Commissioner Bill Brunson says. “The events seemed to be getting incrementally worse.”
The county sent a letter to UGA and the University of Florida in August saying officials are implementing a “ZERO tolerance enforcement policy as it relates to underage drinking, disorderly conduct, littering and other illegal behavior.” The letter also detailed plans for medical assistance, roadblocks and validating people’s ages if they don’t have ID. Law enforcement from six different agencies will patrol the beach to enforce these changes, according to the letter. The UGA Student Government Association emailed the letter to all UGA students, saying, “Please make an effort to keep these communities clean, stay safe and smart, and remember you are representing UGA.”
The changes are due to growing levels of danger, which Brunson attributes to social media giving rise to larger crowds and uncertainty about how many people would show up. Underage drinking and disorderly conduct was causing an unsafe situation for students and the community, says Brunson, who chaired a committee to find solutions for the beach. “The main reason is for the safety of the students,” he says. “Somebody was going to get hurt with this kind of activity. That’s what prompted the decision to do something about it.”
Frat Beach is not what the community wants to be known for, and they want to prevent a situation similar to the alleged gang rape that occurred in Panama City, FL during spring break this year, Brunson says. “We did not want our community painted with this broad brush of ‘Frat Beach.’ That’s not who we are.”
The weekend is typically very lucrative for businesses in the community—especially for hotels—and one potential negative effect of the changes could be less revenue for those businesses. One UGA student, Matt Godwin, says he was planning on going to Frat Beach, but since the changes were announced, he has decided to go straight to the game instead. “Generally, a lot of people got cold feet and backed out,” he says. Several members of Godwin’s fraternity were worried about the police presence, but he says the majority of upperclassmen are still going.
Although Brunson hopes the same number of people travel to the county for the game and says his community still wants to promote the weekend, he expects fewer people. “I have talked to the hotels, and their reservations are down, and I hate it,” he says. “I’m sorry for that. We understood when we began this process that there would be pockets of the economy that would be negatively affected.”
Other than the changes, Brunson says another reason fewer people might come to the game could be Georgia’s lackluster performance so far this season.
UGA student Lisa Johnson is disappointed fewer people will be at Frat Beach this year, but she feels like the changes needed to be made. “Yes, I’m sad that for my senior year a lot of my friends won’t be going, but it was getting out of control,” Johnson says. “I don’t know if the measures needed to be this extreme, but something bad was going to happen if they didn’t do something.”
Another problem that arises during the weekend is the amount of trash left on the beach each year. Brunson says 21,000 pounds of garbage was collected last year, but he also says the committee was much less concerned with this, citing the community’s willingness to volunteer to collect trash. “We’ll all get out there and pick up the trash. That’s not the issue. The issue is safety,” he says.
Although there will be no leeway in the rules this year, Brunson says they will be critiquing the changes after the weekend is over. “Right now, I can say there is not anything I would have done differently,” he says. “But, I can assure you that, probably, on Nov. 2, there will be a notebook full of stuff that we would have done differently.”
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