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Is it time to shut down annual UGA beach party on St. Simons?

The Florida-Georgia game is a legendary rivalry but the beach party on St. Simons Island that precedes the football contest is apparently a legendary nightmare.

A  story that appeared in the AJC last month noted:

The annual college football rivalry between the universities of Georgia and Florida is played traditionally on neutral ground in Jacksonville, but the social setting for the weekend's associated parties is typically centered on St. Simons Island and in the Golden Isles. On the Friday before game day, hundreds of college students converge on St. Simons' East Beach for a raucous party that transforms it into a litter-strewn stretch known as "Frat Beach."

But Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering has vowed to crack down on illegal behavior surrounding this year's game, which kicks off Oct. 31. Doering said he has committed a team of 60 officers to policing underage drinking, littering and foul behavior. Enforcement of the other activities will lead to questions about the age of the person, thus reinforcing the underage drinking patrols. Police also will conduct driving under the influence traffic checkpoints Friday and Saturday nights on the island, as well as use undercover officers and computers on scene to speed up processing for fines and arrests.

The threat of a crackdown has led to concerns from University of Georgia students, some of whom consider Frat Beach a tradition.

However, a recent UGA grad who grew up on St. Simons disagrees with those who contend the Frat Beach tradition is worth celebrating and saving.

A 2015 UGA grad and now a journalist, Molly Golderman recently read a piece defending Frat Beach that riled her.

She wrote a response that I am sharing here:

By Molly Golderman

Earlier this year, my home county released a letter to the universities and colleges in Georgia explaining Glynn County will no longer tolerate the absurdities taking place over GA/FL weekend.

A UGA student writing for the Odyssey at UGA makes a plea to "Save Frat Beach." In the essay, the student writes, "Frat Beach is something which unites the student body of UGA in the spirit of tradition and college fun."

The student body, wow, that's quite a lot of people. What about the students who call St. Simons home and are upset by the ecological harm done that weekend? What about the students who don't have cars or can't afford to drive five hours outside of Athens and load up on alcohol and binge on a hotel room?

Yes, there are traditions, but what does a tradition promoting underage drinking and utter disregard for the community reflect?

Do you call writing your name and phone number and who you “belong to’’ in ink on your arm in the event that you black out a tradition worth preserving?

As a freshman at UGA, I grabbed a ride home with a classmate from Athens who wanted to go to "Frat Beach." I came by the beach Friday to see what all the hoopla was about. I did not encounter one coherent person. People I knew had no idea who I was and could barely stand up.

While defenses of “Frat Beach” contend there are only “a handful of disrespectful, out-of-line students,” the facts contradict that assertion. That "handful" does so much damage that the St. Simons community has to band together and take time out of their workdays to clean up all the garbage.

As the Brunswick News reported : "According to statistics from Keep Brunswick-Golden Isles Beautiful, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division and the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service, in 2013 Glynn County collected more than 21,000 pounds of litter from the beaches, parks and parking lots over the three-day Georgia-Florida Weekend. If the 8,000 attendance estimate is correct, that equates to more than 2.6 lbs. of trash per person."

Defenders of Frat Beach contend the students bring revenue to the island, which such statements as, "The large inflow of college students who need to supply themselves with shelter and food for the weekend also brings likely a great amount of revenue to the businesses in St. Simons and the surrounding area that they wouldn’t normally receive in the off-season of October. Forcibly diminishing the size of frat beach would in turn greatly reduce the profit that the hundreds of restaurants, hotels, renters and other businesses have gotten used to making every Halloween weekend. "

October is not necessarily off-season. It's a beautiful time of year with hiking, kayaking, biking, fishing, hunting, flying airplanes and riding horses. Believe it or not, there are other people besides drunken UGA students who enjoy taking weekend trips to the beach in October. It is, after all, a resort and retirement destination. They don't call it the Golden Isles for nothing. And we all know how many people are packed into a hotel room that's only supposed to sleep two people."

By the way, the beach has a real name, you know. It's called East Beach.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.