Remember The Union

Ohio University graduate Joe Donatelli remembers The Union, which burned down in November 2014.

the-union-fire

Like most Bobcats I was saddened to learn about the fire on Union Street. Two of Athens’ favorite public establishments, Jackie O’s and The Union, were hit hard. It sounds like Jackie O’s will remain open in some limited capacity while it rebuilds. The Union as we know it “is no more,” according to its proprietors.

Here’s hoping the owners rebuild.

It’s hard to imagine Uptown without The Union.

When I was at Ohio University in the 1990s The Union was the alternative, grunge, dive, $1-for-a-Schlitz, indie music bar. Downstairs was for townies and regulars. Upstairs was literally for everyone.

For some students The Union was a stop on a shuffle. But for others it was the central organizing principle of their social lives. It was a place accepting of various fashions, scenes and lifestyles. It was smokey and dark, rough around the edges, yet tolerant. More so than a lot of places Uptown, it was a true melting pot.

The pretty people were at The Crystal and Pawpurr’s. The people who had tattoos and piercings and tattoos of piercings or didn’t care to judge the tattooed and pierced were at The Union. The Union gave the “goddamn independents” who exist outside of OU’s self-organizing social classes of greeks and jocks and bros and basics a place to drink and socialize and dance and sing. It was the definition of a proper dive bar as well as a place to see The Black Keys for-crying-out-loud.

Obviously I have fond memories of the place, and of all of them the most recent stands out.

Two years ago when my wife and I returned to Athens for a semester we attended a live performance of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” on the second floor. The room was packed. Everyone was dressed in drag and lingerie, the audience and cast blending together, singing and dancing in a buckshot blast of freak humanity.

It was loud. It was fun. It was weird.

It was The Union.

Joe Donatelli is a journalist in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo via The Post

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That Time When Ohio University’s Alumni Band Fought the Miami of Ohio Football Team

Read the true story of the time Ohio University’s alumni marching band fought the Miami University football team.

cover-fbThe Marching Band Refused to Yield: The true story of the time Ohio University’s alumni band fought the Miami of Ohio football team
By JOE DONATELLI
Available on Amazon

I still remember where I was the first time I heard the story. I was a freshman sports reporter working for Ohio University’s independent student newspaper, The Post. Back then The Post was located on the first floor of the old Baker Center, on the side of the building nearest Court Street. All of those students in jean shorts and flannels on the side of the building getting a jumpstart on lung cancer—that was us.

Inside the first set of doors on the left side of the building, next to the wheelchair entrance, was The Post editorial office, lounge, dark room and newsroom. Those artificially-lit green and white rooms launched many great journalism careers and possibly several cases of rickets. In the newsroom, sitting at a computer that today has the processing power of a decent toaster, my editor Rachael Larimore (nee Brandon) explained the Ohio University-Miami of Ohio sports rivalry.

“Miami is our biggest rival,” Rachael said. “Our alumni band beat up their football team a few years ago. We don’t like them. Now they really don’t like us.”

Since then, I’ve heard a few variations of that story. Sometimes it’s the Ohio University Marching 110 that fights the Miami football team. Sometimes a Miami coach and a member of the alumni band get into a fistfight. Sometimes a member of the alumni band steals the football from the Miami team and runs away. The one consistent facet of the story is that it’s always repeated by alumni who are not ashamed to be associated with a university whose alumni band stepped to Division-I football players.

Last fall my wife and I returned to Athens for a semester, and many of the old stories were retold over beers with friends at Jackie O’s, Lucky’s and Tony’s. To mark its 20th anniversary, I decided to write about the alumni band-Miami football fight for this website. I searched for information online and found little. I emailed a few members of the alumni band who were on the field that day, and they asked me to hold off on the story. As implausible as it seemed to me, they didn’t want to get the current band in trouble because, as I learned, bad blood between Miami and the Marching 110 runs deep. Miami, I learned, has a history of banning the Ohio Marching 110 from its football stadium. I complied. The Ohio-Miami game passed, and there went my hook. Like a good sports fan raised in Cleveland, I decided to wait until next year.

During the off-season I talked to some more band members. I also found news reports from the incident. I convinced myself and others that this was a story that needed to be told, not because it’s interesting when a band fights a football team (it is), but because the full story of what happened during halftime of Ohio’s 1992 homecoming is one that will make any Bobcat–or anyone who has ever marched in a good marching band–proud.

“The Marching Band Refused to Yield” can be purchased and read online or downloaded to your Kindle, PC, MAC, tablets or smartphones (click that link to find out how to get the story on your device) for just $0.99 from October 20-27. Then the price goes up.

The Marching Band Refused to Yield is now available on Amazon.

REVIEWS:

“I was a senior in high school and in the crowd when this happened. I later went on to march in the 110 and I can say without a doubt that those were some of the best days of my life! This story does a great job describing the events that took place that day. I now know most of the OU people interviewed and I must say I would have done the same thing as either a student or alumni.” – Andy

“Proud to have been there that day, proud to have bought Kindle version of e-book. What a great day that was. Hi-frickin O.” – Ronald

“I was here for that game, but it’s nice to hear from some of the people involved. It would have been nice if any of the Miami jerks would have added anything, but that’s them living up to their perception. Muck Fiami! OU, Oh yeah!” – Todd

UPDATE:

“The Marching Band Refused to Yield” is Amazon’s No. 1 e-book about military marches, which is the category I had to list this book under because there was no plain Marching Band category.

amazon-rank-1026

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Comeback Victory: Ohio University football has come a long way. A really, really long way. Really.

Ohio University alumni Joe Donatelli recalls the dark days of the Ohio University football program from the mid-1990s.

Packed house at Peden Stadium

Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Ohio Today.

To see just how far the Ohio football program has come, one must travel back in time to 1994. My freshman year the football team failed to win a game. It didn’t just lose. It invented new and exciting ways to lose. The first game I attended at Peden Stadium was a 5-0 loss to Utah State. For you non-football fans, 5-0 is an unusual football score. It’s like losing a baseball game .7 to 0.

I seem to recall the Utah State game being played under dark skies, but perhaps that’s because it felt like every game that season was played in a Tim Burton movie. It was always windy, always dark, always raining. If the field had split in half during the second quarter and 10,000 specters leapt into the gray sky, it would’ve surprised no one. It would have explained things. Ah, we would have said, the stadium’s haunted. That’s why we can’t get past the 50.

True story: I got my ticket by purchasing a hamburger at the Wendy’s on Court Street. Attendance was 5,940. Most fans left after the 110 performed at halftime, as was tradition at the time.

The rest of the season was a disaster. Ohio lost by an average of 16 points a game. Greg Graziano, who hosted the “Coach’s Corner” TV show, was forced to show highlights of short runs by running back Lakarlos Townsend. For you non-football fans, this would be like showing “American Idol” highlights of singers not falling off the stage.

After one particularly bad outing, head coach Tom Lichtenberg went on the radio and said something along the lines of, “We played like Cliffy and the Clowns, and I’m Cliffy.” The quote made its way into sports reporter Rob Demovsky’s story in The Athens Messenger, and it summed up the season.

It should be noted that the players, many of whom were talented, took all this losing hard. I got to know a few of them when I covered the men’s track team for The Post. I asked why they played two sports, and their response was, “We want to win something.” To their credit, on the track, they usually did.

Lichtenberg was fired at the end of the season, and a new coach, Jim Grobe, was hired for the 1995 campaign.

In Grobe’s first home game, Ohio snapped its 12-game losing streak against Illinois State. A few hundred students stormed the field and tore down the goalpost, probably more out of irony than joy. Depending who you ask, the goalpost was either carried uptown to the bars or dumped in the Hocking. Or possibly both. The athletic department hilariously warned students not to tear down the goalposts again, which was not a problem, as Ohio wouldn’t win another home game for almost a year.

But the team had turned a corner. In 1996 and 1997 Ohio won more games than it lost, and what we now know as Ohio football was born. It was during the Grobe years that students started attending games again, and not just for the 110, which it should be noted has never had a bad season.

And that’s where I left things when I graduated. We were winless my freshman year. We were winners my senior year.

Last fall, my wife and I returned to Athens for a semester. (You can read all about that adventure here.) When we went to the New Mexico State game last season, it didn’t feel—what’s the word?—real.

Tailgreat Park

During the 1997 season, the tailgate section was wherever my friend Jim parked his Chevy Celebrity (actual photo above), plus whoever else then happened to park around us. There were no tents. No bouncy castles for the kids. No double-wide bathrooms. Or fancy alumni tents. Or bands. Or families. It was mainly people who bled green and white and who liked drinking in the morning, which are probably two sides of the same coin.

Back in the 1990s, the game-day experience was bare-bones. You had the band and the cheerleaders and the mascot, and tiny football promoting the local realty company and that was about it. Now, besides often being televised, the stadium has Victory Hill and a video scoreboard and contests and other fun things to distract fans during TV timeouts.

Probably the biggest change is that there are so many fans. My wife and I had no idea that by going to the New Mexico State game we’d be part of the largest crowd in school history (25,893). Demand is such that ticket cost is not based on price elasticity (meaning price rises with demand), which is a vast departure from the old burger-based pricing scheme.

It was an exciting season, which kicked off with the school and town still buzzing about Ohio’s appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Utah State. The Bobcats won 24-23, which is a fine football score.

Joe Donatelli ’98 was managing editor of The Post in 1997-98. He is the author of The Marching Band Refused to Yield: The True Story of the Time the Ohio University Alumni Band Fought the Miami of Ohio Football Team.

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Mailing List for My Untitled Humor Book Set at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio

If you’d like to be notified when my Ohio University humor book is published, email me at contactjoed(at)gmail.com with the subject line Book Mailing List.

Athens-Christmas-DaySo the thing with books these days is that you have to start marketing them before they’re finished, which is probably something that, say, Victor Hugo never had to deal with. Other things Hugo never had to deal with: getting reviewed on Goodreads, Twitter followers and teen book bloggers. (They can MAKE OR BREAK you.)

I’ve started a humorous mystery novel set at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. If you’d like to be notified when the book is published, please email me at contactjoed(at)gmail.com with the subject line Book Mailing List, and I will add you to the mailing list.

If you like humorous novels or mysteries or hold a special place in your heart for OU and Athens, I think you will enjoy this book. The first chapter is finished, and the entire book is outlined. The goal is to finish it this summer and offer it for sale before the holidays.

Thanks for your support.

And for my Bobcats … Go ‘Cats!

Things I have written about OU:

Returning to Athens is for Brave, Foolish Alumni

11 Reasons Why Miami is the Worst

Some advice for President Obama on His Visit to Athens, Ohio

What a 2012 Ohio University football game looks like to someone who watched OU lose 5-0 to Utah State in 1994

The Worst College House Ever

The Junction: A Eulogy

Bobcat Fans Brave Tornado to Witness First Bowl Game Since 1968

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Ohio Tumblr

Check out the hilarious Ohio Tumblr “I’m From Ohio,” which is loaded with funny Ohio GIFs.

ohio-flag

This is for Ohio people–and anyone who likes making fun of Ohio, which is the rest of the country. My apologies if these Ohio GIFs are too Ohio. I’ll return to less geographically specific things like Morgan Freeman narrating himself tomorrow.

Tumblr: Hi, I’m From Ohio

 

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