Tradition’s tragic end: Mirror Lake Jump
Published: November 26, 2015
Tradition’s tragic end: Mirror Lake Jump, For years, Ohio State University officials have warned that the traditional Michigan-week jump into Mirror Lake is a bad idea, but have allowed students to do it. Now, a long-feared tragedy has brought that to an end.
Following the death on Wednesday morning of Austin Singletary, a third-year student from Dayton, university officials said they won’t allow the practice to continue.
“University leadership strongly agrees that we will work with our campus community to end this annual event,” spokesman Chris Davey said in a written statement released at noon on Wednesday.
“In spite of significant efforts taken to make this event a safer one, this tragedy has occurred. We must come together and acknowledge that while this is a student-led tradition that has been passed down through the years, we cannot risk another tragedy.”
Singletary, 22, a junior from Dayton, was pulled from the lake in cardiac arrest at 12:20 a.m. on Wednesday. He was treated immediately by paramedics, but died later in the morning at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.
Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz said an autopsy will be performed on Thursday in hopes of finding a possible preliminary cause of death. A final ruling on Singletary’s death won’t be determined until toxicology tests come back, which usually means an additional six weeks, Ortiz said.
Ohio State’s website lists Singletary as a human-nutrition major. As a leader with the Buckeye Civic Engagement Connection, a project of the Office of Student Life, he volunteered at Eastgate Elementary School in Columbus, helping students with their schoolwork and with behavior issues. In a profile on the project’s website, he declared his “favorite Buckeye experience” to be “when we won the National Championship.”
His mother, Tracy Fisher Singletary, said on Wednesday afternoon that she was not ready to talk to a reporter.
Singletary was one of thousands who jumped into the lake as part of a tradition that is repeated each year on Tuesday night of the week of the Ohio State-Michigan football game. A Dispatch video showed students continuing to jump, splash and shout, apparently oblivious as paramedics worked on Singletary a few feet away.
The emergency department at the medical center also treated about a dozen other students after the jump, which is in line with most years. “Things like bumps and bruises, the usual things,” Wexner spokeswoman Sherri Kirk said.
By late Wednesday morning, after the dive team was gone and the clothing and trash left behind by the jumpers had been cleared away, students who walked by Mirror Lake seemed unanimous in their belief that the tradition would continue.
“There’s no way they can stop it,” said Jacob Lester, an 18-year-old freshman from Marion. “A tradition that runs back that far, you don’t stop it.”
Lester had taken his inaugural jump into the lake the night before. “It was my first, but not my last,” he said.
A trio of roommates, two of whom jumped early Wednesday morning, agreed that ending the tradition will be difficult.
“Unless they arrest people, I don’t think people will stop,” said Suvanna Shipp, 21, a junior from West Liberty.
Edwin Rice, a 22-year-old fifth-year student from Cincinnati, said the thought of the tradition disappearing is “lamentable.”
But he wasn’t surprised to hear the university announce that it will work to end the Mirror Lake jump.
“For OSU to do nothing, that’s obviously impossible,” he said. “A death is a death. To do nothing would be disrespectful.”
Nick Sampsel, 22, a fourth-year student from Marysville, said the university’s decision came too quickly.
“It hasn’t even been 24 hours yet,” he said. “It seems that it’s mainly about P.R. and liability.”
He expects students to jump regardless of the ban. He worries that a heavy police presence at Mirror Lake for future jumps could lead to a clash with students similar to the incident on N. High Street after the Buckeye football team won the national championship.
“It’s not beyond the realm of possibility,” he said. “I don’t want a riot.”
Dr. Holly Cronau, an associate professor of clinical family medicine at the medical center, said she has long been concerned about the health risks for those who jump into what she called “gross” water.
“I’ve taken care of people who’ve gotten sick from this thing,” she said as she stood across from Mirror Lake on Neil Avenue. “It’s full of urine and bacteria. It’s not healthy water, and if you ingest it…. besides the fact that it can be cold enough to cause hyperthermia.”
However, she described herself as torn over the prospect of banning the behavior.
“I hate to see traditions go, but when you’re an administration and you’re going to face a probable lawsuit and all kinds of things, what other position does the administration have? And the students will probably find a way around it.”
Ohio State has struggled in recent years to manage the event. Officials say they don’t sanction the event and seek to discourage it. But they also set up fences, have safety forces on hand and set up a wrist-band system to admit students to the lake for the jump. The jump dates at least to 1990, when a group of students jumped in spontaneously after marching around in anticipation of the Michigan game.
Two years ago, the university took steps to limit it, by putting up temporary fencing around the lake and declaring that only students who obtained wristbands ahead of time would be allowed into the area.
Students responded with a social-media campaign calling for an unofficial jump on Monday night instead of Tuesday night. Several thousand showed up, and when they began to knock down the fences, law-enforcement officers let them go ahead. But many more came for the pass-required jump on Tuesday; a similar pattern unfolded in 2014.
This year, OSU officials tweaked the plan by enlarging the fenced area and creating two entrances instead of one, along with several one-way exits.
To receive a wristband allowing them into the lake area, students had to go to one of two locations in advance and swipe their official university ID card, which ensured each student could get only one wristband. Each also received a one-page memo with information about the dangers of jumping and tips on how to avoid hypothermia and getting hurt.
As news of the death became known on Wednesday, students on social media were divided over whether the jump should be banned. Some urged OSU officials not to “overreact,” and others chastised posters for arguing about it in light of Singletary’s death.
OSU’s Undergraduate Student Government, which has endorsed the university’s restrictions on the jump, issued a statement on Wednesday supporting the end of the Mirror Lake jump and pledging to help develop a new ritual.
Student-government President Abby Grossman, who said she participated in the jump, said the tradition had the positive effect of bringing thousands of students together for a shared experience, but added that she’s certain that “those positive aspects can absolutely be replicated in another setting that’s safer.”
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