STATE COLLEGE, Pa.--Police and community leaders were hoping for toned-down celebrations this weekend when Penn State students and out-of-town visitors hit bars and house parties for the annual early commemoration of St. Patrick's Day.
"State Patty's Day" has drawn criticism from State College, university officials and some student groups as an event that has turned into an unacceptable excuse for excessive drinking and destructive behavior.
Opposition has mounted in recent years, and leaders hope stepped-up community service and volunteering efforts will help cut down on trouble.
"Overall, it's going to be a community effort," Christian Ragland, president of the student government association, said Friday. "We definitely don't endorse a dangerous drinking holiday."
State College police Chief Tom King said his department has been working with various student groups, including fraternities and sororities, and downtown bars and restaurants to keep things "at a reasonable level."
State Patty's Day started in 2007 from a Facebook group because St. Patrick's Day that year fell during spring break.
But the event has continued even with St. Patrick's Day no longer falling during the break. Community frustration mounted after Penn State was ranked the top party school in the country, according to an unscientific survey in 2009 by Princeton Review.
That fall, a freshman's accidental death following a night of drinking in September shook some students, and school and community leaders further ramped up efforts to discourage alcohol abuse.
As of Friday afternoon, at least seven establishments said they would close Saturday, and others will not offer drink specials common in previous years, said Jody Alessandrine, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District.
"Overall, it's very encouraging. We've got church groups, civic groups" working together, he said. "This is the one opportunity for us all to show how proud we are of all the good things in State College and the area."
King said his department will be staffed as if it were a fall football weekend, with officers from around the county on hand to help. Management for many private apartment buildings was supposed to have extra security.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on Friday also said it would cancel in-store tastings and close four State College-area stores three hours early Saturday, at 6 p.m., "in an effort to discourage binge and problematic drinking.:
The weekend has developed such a reputation that revelers travel to Happy Valley from other college campuses.
Last year, about 2/3 of the roughly 160 people arrested over the State Patty's Day weekend were not Centre County residents or Penn State students, according to Chief King. Student government leaders have called counterparts at other colleges to urge them to dissuade classmates from making a special trip to State College.
"If they want to come here, that's fine as long as they are responsible and reasonable," King said. "We just can't have this town torn apart because people want to get sloppy drunk."