Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Toilet Paper Makes a Mess


by Frank Boles

Back in 2019, I wrote a blog about the famous CMU Toilet Paper toss at basketball games. The event, which I wrote began in 1986, received national attention. It turns out, the story is messier than my sanitized version, as Grant Skomski, the now retired assistant director of Residence Life, reminded me.

The first toilet paper toss took place sometime during the early days of the 1982-83 CMU basketball season. But the fad was short-lived. As Central Michigan Life reported on February 14, “What started out as a way to show school spirit turned into a quick trip to the Department of Public Safety for two students during Central's basketball game [on February 12] against Kent State University.” When the police arrived, the ten or fifteen Thorpe Hall residents tossing toilet paper ran but two failed to make their getaway, were arrested, and led away in handcuffs. The police suggested that a charge of disorderly conduct sounded about right to them, although the possibility of adding inciting a riot was not out of the question. In the end no criminal charges were filed.

The student newspaper joined the police in taking a dim view of the 1983 toilet paper toss. It editorialized on February 16:

“TP tossing must stop. While one select group of Chippewa fans see the Athletic Department's attempt to squelch a fad before it becomes tradition as flushing team spirit down the proverbial toilet—we think there may be better ways to channel their energies. It seems a group of Thorpe Hall residents have taken it upon themselves to make tossing rolls of toilet paper after the men's basketball team scores its first field goal the next best thing to the “oooh-waaah” cheer. Although we question the method the Athletic Department used in stopping this action—ejecting the 10 to 15 fans from the game—we do agree it had to be stopped.”

It is uncertain whether it was the threats of criminal prosecution or the disapproval of their peers that changed the behavior of the Thorpe Hall’s men, but what is certain is that nobody tossed any more toilet paper that year at basketball game or at games for several years thereafter.

In 1986, the times had changed. The toilet paper toss was back, and instead of arresting those throwing paper, the toss was garnering the school lots of good publicity. Dave Keilitz, who had become Athletic Director in 1984, was quoted in Central Michigan Life on February 13, 1987:

“It’s something which is unique. Right now, it’s a novel type of thing." Keilitz said. "We have great, great fans. We don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm at all. If everybody were to let fly with the one initial barrage after the first bucket, it’s no problem," Keilitz added. "What has happened in the last two games is it keeps coming."

The reporter and the CMU basketball coach agreed, “the toilet paper toss,” wrote the reporter, “has become something for Chippewa fans to be proud of. As CMU head [basketball] coach Charlie Coles has said, it’s something we do better than anyone else in the country.” The iconic photo of the event, which was published in People magazine, was taken by CMU photographer Peggy Brisbane during the Western Michigan game on February 18, 1987.

The event did lead to some peculiar problems. So many rolls disappeared from the residence halls, that the front desks suddenly had sign-up sheets tracking every request for a roll of toilet paper, and residence hall staff noted how often certain rooms seemed to need new rolls just before or after a basketball game. If penny-pinching administrators could track the use of toilet paper in a residence hall, students quickly realized there were still plenty of toilet paper in public restrooms. Game day, the restrooms in the Rose Arena suddenly had no toilet paper, with the same shortage happening in the bathrooms of the academic buildings. Students were quite enterprising when it came to finding free rolls of toilet paper, but if their hard work failed, local grocery stores usually had toilet paper on sale right before each game day.

Other MAC schools did not share CMU’s enthusiasm for the activity. On December 14, 1987, Central Michigan Life reported that the MAC adopted new rule, specifically aimed at CMU. “All MAC institutions shall take steps to prohibit the throwing of any articles onto the floor during basketball games...” The MAC cited safety concerns, and CMU did concede several pairs of glasses had been broken by flying “debris.” It is probably worth noting that the new rule was adopted unanimously by the MAC, meaning CMU’s representatives also voted for it.

The December 14, 1987 student newspaper went on to report that “Beginning Thursday, CMU officials are planning to halt the toilet paper-throwing ritual at Chippewa basketball games.” Since everyone knew simply asking students to stop would prove insufficient, “All rolls of tissue will be confiscated at the door. Any person who smuggles the toilet paper into Rose and tosses it will be escorted from the arena.”

If it was 1982 all over again inside Rose Arena, this time the afterglow is still fondly remembered by many to this day. As Dave Keilitz summed it up, “It was good while it lasted.”

My thanks to Grant, for nudging me to do more research.