The streets went up in flames. Rubber bullets flew. Tear gas filled the air. Screaming. Fighting. Twenty years ago this month, Minnesota State celebrated the night of homecoming in the midst of chaos.
“It just happened so fast,” said Myron Medcalf, who was editor of The Reporter at the time and is currently a columnist for the Star Tribune. “It went from a normal Saturday night to the next morning. Every TV crew in the state is there, it is the biggest story in not even just Minnesota, probably the whole midwest.”
Oct. 4 2003 began as a day of excitement for the Mavericks. With a homecoming football game on the horizon, college students prepared the way they knew best, indulging in alcohol, tailgating and hoping for a victory. The game ended in a loss, but the partying went on. The uproar started once police came to intervene, “And everyone just poured into the street,” Medcalf said.
Medcalf, who ran a sports radio show Saturday nights at KMSU with partner Brian McKnight, was live on the air when the phone kept ringing.
“All of a sudden, we get this phone call and it’s this dude, and he’s frantic, and he’s like, ‘Oh my God, we’re at CampusView apartments. Police are shooting rubber balls at people, and they’re hitting people and they’re going wild,’” Medcalf said.
An estimate of 2,000-3,000 people flooded the streets near CampusView apartments, known today as Highland Hills Apartments in Mankato.
Medcalf was among the first reporters on the scene, going completely mobile. It was the era before social media, and oldschool mobile phones were useful tools to capture photos and gather story material.
“The crowd’s just growing and growing and growing, and there were cars on fire,” Medcalf said. “I watched guys flip a car, standing on top of cars damaging stuff. People literally lost it.”
Mankato police reported students assaulting other students, tearing down fences, smashing car windows, setting cars and trash bins on fire, throwing rocks and bricks at officers. Students reported officers and K-9 units arriving as far as Duluth firing bullets and tear gas into the air with a helicopter overhead.
“If it wasn’t already chaotic and crazy, the cops, the way they came in just made everything worse because they were just indiscriminately going after people,” Medcalf said. “All I’m thinking in my mind is this is about to go from a riot for the drunk kids to someone’s going to get killed.”
Nearly 500 calls were made to 911 dispatchers. Forty-five people were charged. More than 10 were treated for injuries at a hospital. The riot, allegedly blamed on alcohol, inflicted lasting damage to the Mankato community from its physical and emotional repairs.
The following morning, MSU called a press conference. Every media outlet in the state was in attendance, including TV stations and media outlets in the Twin Cities.
At MSU’s own newspaper, advertising sales soared. As one of the biggest editions of its time, the newspaper incorporated a large photograph of flames and shadows of rioters behind the bolded words, “RIOT!”
“At one point we had to call the Minnesota newspaper guild, because the police had inquired about our photos,” Medcalf said.
Medcalf made history as the first black editor of the MSU Reporter, and is currently making history as a college basketball reporter at ESPN, and at the Star Tribune.
“It’s probably why I’m here honestly; I’ve been able to do the things I’ve been able to do,” Medcalf said. “(Star Tribune reporter Bob Franklin) came to my office at The Reporter. I helped him with the story that he was writing about the riot, and he was like, ‘Hey, you should think about an internship.’”
The impact the Homecoming riot of 2003 had on MSU and local news reporters still stands. For student reporters, it was the first time they felt the thrill of breaking news, resulting in many to work at the scene to this day.
“We didn’t have some giant budget or fancy technology,” Medcalf said. “We literally just went to the story and that’s always gonna be my lasting impression. We covered that story better than anybody did.”
Header photo: Thousands flooded the streets as riots broke out after the annual Maverick football homecoming game. Mankato police used rubber bullets and tear gas to break up the crowds Oct. 4, 2003. (Courtesy Mankato FreePress)
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