SU and school work to end couch races

Senior administrative officials at the University of Calgary and the Students’ Union met this summer to work on eliminating the much beloved but often risky annual couch races. Couch races, a notorious tradition that takes place at St. Andrews Heights on Bermuda Shorts Day, was shut down by police last year.

Typically, teams of students engineer couches with wheels to race for the fastest time. Few couches make it down the hill in one piece and many students go flying.

Last year, several serious injuries were sustained.

“We are very lucky nobody was fatally injured,” said Voula Cocolakis, U of C associate vice-provost of student services.

SU president Lauren Webber wants to guarantee this does not happen again.

“We don’t want to see anybody getting hurt,” said Webber.

Although the couch races were not on university property or sanctioned by the university, the university’s reputation was put at risk.

“When the media is called and they see a whole bunch of students, there are assumptions made,” explained Cocolakis. “The assumption that is made is that it is a university event.”

The U of C emphasized that the couch races and BSD are completley unrelated.

After the university dealt with a potential law suit from an injured student’s parents and split the clean-up bill with the SU, an adhoc committee was established to review the events and write recommendations for the upcoming year.

As a result, the SU and the U of C will be educating students about the risks of alcohol abuse.

The SU is also stressing the difference between sanctioned and unsanctioned events with student clubs and residence leaders during orientation.

Last year, no punitive measures were taken despite evidence that members of the Ski Club started a Facebook group and offered a prize, said Webber.

The incoming executives of the Ski Club will not organize the event for 2011. Webber added that she does not want to see any clubs de-sanctioned or individuals punished.

A two-time couch race winner, who chose not to reveal his real name, did not understand why the university took issue with the event as it is held off-campus and organized by individual students.

“Couch races are one of the major highlights of BSD . . . believe it or not, a lot of planning and engineering went into building some of the couches,” he said.

“Yes, there comes a risk with it, but those entering couches should realize these risks and either accept them and participate, or stay clear of the whole thing.”

Webber said students involved in the planning should be less concerned with non-academic misconduct than with a serious lawsuit in their mid-twenties.

The SU is considering alternative programming on BSD such as a campus-wide breakfast to deter students from going to the hill before the beer gardens open.

“Safety first. Safety in numbers,” is Webber’s message.

Cocolakis was unable to say what measures the university would take if the couch races happened again. Increased security on the hill including Calgary Police Service patrols may be seen.

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