As if being crowned the No. 1 party school in the nation last fall weren't enough, Pennsylvania State University students have created another drinking holiday, one they've coined "State Patty's Day."
Last year, the event generated more alcohol-related visits to the emergency room, arrests for driving under the influence, and other alcohol-related criminal activity than any other weekend. That included homecoming, Halloween, the actual St. Patrick's Day, and big home football games.
Coming up Saturday, the fourth annual event has civic leaders in State College and some educators calling for an end to it - or at least less drinking.
It comes as Penn State officials are trying to combat destructive drinking on the 44,000-student main campus with activities and programs, while facing a spike in alcohol-related emergency-room visits by students. In September, freshman Joseph Dado, 18, fell off a balcony and died after drinking.
Some student groups and businesses are vowing to boycott Saturday's event or drink less, but State Patty's Day continues to grow in popularity on social networking sites.
"Social media kind of takes on a life of its own," said Jill Shockey, a university spokeswoman. "Students can create any event they want and invite students to it, and all of a sudden a whim becomes a large, widespread happening."
Penn State has long been known for its alcohol-laden tailgate parties and active Greek life. Last summer, the Princeton Review labeled it the nation's top party school, based on student surveys - a method that university officials say make the ranking only "a popularity contest."
But university officials know there is a problem. Penn State last month released statistics showing that more students are drinking more alcohol than just a few years earlier - and drinking it destructively.
The number of alcohol-related student admissions to Mount Nittany Medical Center increased to 586 in 2008-09, up from 445 the year before and 227 in 2004-05. The average blood-alcohol level rose to 0.253 percent in 2008-09 from 0.250 the year before and 0.233 in 2004-05.
Students started State Patty's Day in 2007, when St. Patrick's Day fell over spring break and they didn't want to miss a chance to celebrate together. Since then, spring break has not coincided with St. Patrick's Day, but the event has drawn more people each year.
Shops sell T-shirts, engraved mugs, and shot glasses. Restaurants and bars serve green beer and pizza. Police work overtime.
Last year, the 65-member State College Police Department, assisted by neighboring law enforcement agencies, charted 311 calls for police on State Patty's Day weekend, 79 criminal arrests, 14 DUI arrests, 21 alcohol overdoses requiring medical help, and 31 disorderly parties.
A normal "nonevent" weekend yields about a third of that, borough Police Capt. Dana Leonard said. On a nonevent weekend in January last year, there were 106 calls, 28 criminal arrests, 5 DUI arrests, 4 alcohol overdoses, and 11 loud parties.
Lawless activity was blatant on State Patty's Day, Leonard said. A male urinated on a terrace in front of the police department's main window.
"This is one more big event weekend that we have to gear up for that doesn't seem to have any basis in any legitimate celebration," Leonard said. "A step in the right direction would be for State Patty's Day to go away."
While some on campus would like to see it end, most university groups are calling for responsible behavior and nondestructive drinking.
"We are not trying to curtail all consumption of alcohol. We're trying to strongly encourage safe consumption," Shockey said.
Student government and more than 30 other groups signed a safe-behavior pledge and backed alternate, nonalcohol events.
The Interfraternity Council adopted rules for the day prohibiting fraternities from hosting large "invitation" parties and from serving hard alcohol and wine.
"We're protecting ourselves against the liabilities that come along with that day," said council president Max Wendkos, 22, a senior from Maple Glen, Pa.
The local tavern association, at the request of borough officials, voted unanimously to treat State Patty's Day as a normal Saturday, which means they won't offer Irish-theme drink specials or open early. Last year, some bars began serving at 8 a.m.
"We're not doing anything to promote it, no specials, nothing," said Mike Fullington, owner of Phyrst, a popular Irish bar on Beaver Avenue near campus.
Thousands have signed on to social-media pages in support of the event and say the majority shouldn't be penalized for the bad behavior of a minority.
"Some students take it too far. That happens every weekend, though," said senior Alex Grice, 22, of East Brunswick, N.J. "There are students who don't know how to party responsibly."
Andrew Wilson, 22, a senior from Pittsburgh, said he also enjoyed the event and favors the university's approach of discouraging unsafe drinking rather than trying to quash the fun.
"It would be optimistic to think that trying to eliminate drinking overall is an option. But . . . trying to curtail the excess is helpful," he said.
Elizabeth Goreham, mayor of State College, called the event "an embarrassment."
Last year, parents and students were in town that day for an engineering open house and swim meet.
"Coming downtown, you saw these reeling people, alcohol-infused people staggering around," she said.
State Patty's Day is part of a bigger problem on campus, she said. In her 13 years in borough government, alcohol-related problems have never been worse, but there also has never been as much interest in doing something about them, she said.
In April, the borough will consider new ordinances holding students more accountable for large parties serving underage drinkers and vandalism in the neighborhood, she said.
The university in recent years has stepped up efforts to curtail problem drinking. It rolled out and expanded "LateNight" with comedians, bands, crafts, movies, games, and other nondrinking entertainment. Increased counseling and support groups also have been started under president Graham Spanier, as well as a campus-community partnership to stop dangerous drinking.
While recognizing the university's efforts, Dennis Shea, health policy and administration professor and department head, said the school could do more. Faculty, he said, should discuss alcohol problems in lessons, and administrators should elicit support of parents.
The University of Illinois sends home letters to parents, saying it does not sanction "Unofficial St. Patrick's Day," started by a local bar owner. It also encourages parents to tell their children to be safe, spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.
Shea said Penn State also should alter class times. The school's policy of scheduling fewer 8 a.m. classes and gearing classes for Tuesday and Thursday gives students longer weekends and more party time.
State Patty's Day just exacerbates the problem, he said: "I can't believe we're really doing this again."