The Glynn County Commission hopes that Frat Beach will be a sober event this year. For the second year in a row, alcohol will be banned on St. Simons Island during the annual Georgia-Florida football game weekend, otherwise known as Frat Beach.
All “common source” containers such as milk jugs, which are usually filled with mixtures of alcohol, will also be banned.
Additionally, there will be no food trucks and fewer port-a-potties will be available for use on the beach. These measures are all intended to reduce the number of students, partly to curb the spread of COVID-19.
‘No mercy’ for drinking
The two-day alcohol ban from Oct. 29-30 was put into place in a Glynn County Commission meeting on Sept. 2. District 2 Commissioner Cap Fendig said police will be strict and will have “no mercy” on the beach. He said officers will be distributing citations to those who do not abide by the ban.
Although District 4 Commissioner Bill Brunson said law enforcement isn’t trying to put people in jail, there will be strict watch of beachgoers just as there was last year. Fendig has emerged as a staunch opponent of the yearly revelry, which traditionally includes drinking on the beach.
“We are not going to tolerate it. We shouldn’t have to be endangering public safety with the people of our community,” Fendig said. “There will be zero tolerance.”
The Glynn County police will patrol and ID attendees at the beach and parks. Officers will “cite and arrest” underage drinkers or people exhibiting unruly behavior, according to the recommendations that were passed. If an individual is found with alcohol, they will be directed to pour it out, according to Glynn County officials.
The alcohol ban took effect due to multiple threats to public safety, including the focus of law enforcement primarily on the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial, the lingering threat of COVID-19 and the desire to put an end to rampant underage drinking on the beaches of St. Simons.
The trial of three men, Travis and Greg McMichael and William Bryan, for the murder of Arbery will begin Oct. 18. It will continue through the weekend of Oct. 29-30, the weekend of Frat Beach.
Arbery, a Black man, was killed while on a run after being chased by the three white men and shot by one of them. His death sparked national outcry, and his trial is expected to attract people from all over the country to Brunswick.
Although Glynn County police and state patrol will be monitoring the beach, there will be reduced numbers of staff because county resources are “under capacity” and focused on the trial, according to Fendig.
“It’s not only law enforcement. It’s all the first responders, it’s EMT, it’s the fire department, it’s the Sheriff’s Department, it’s the police department. It’s everything that we’ve had to delegate to Frat Beach. Every element of that is involved in this trial,” Brunson said.
No longer a party beach?
The threat of COVID-19 is not only a pressing matter for county enforcement, but also for the large crowds that will be present on the beach, in restaurants and other establishments throughout St. Simons and Brunswick.
“Last year we had multiple first responders who had contracted COVID that wouldn’t be available to be out there on the beach. Same thing is applicable this year,” Brunson said.
In the Sept. 2 meeting, Tamara H. Munson, the co-acting county manager, said there were 27 firefighters and EMS workers out with COVID-19 the week of the commission’s Aug. 25 meeting.
Some commissioners want to see a permanent reduction in the number of people at Frat Beach.
“I don’t think that there’ll be a ban on alcohol next year, unless something unforeseen occurs, but this year it really is about allocation of resources. Last year the attendance for Frat Beach was down and that might have been a positive thing,” Brunson said.
Fendig said he knew that when he was reelected last January, one of his main goals would be to put an end to Frat Beach. He said he wanted to challenge the community to come up with another way for students to celebrate the annual Georgia-Florida rivalry game in St. Simons.
“I’ve been an opponent of Frat Beach from the beginning when it exploded. Frat Beach earned the reputation that you could come to St. Simons and binge drink and do whatever you want, and behave however you want without impunity or consequence,” Fendig said. “It will not continue as that type of gathering anymore.”
Fendig said he has provided transportation tours around the island during the Frat Beach weekend for thousands of drunk students before, where he saw dangerous behavior firsthand.
Many Frat Beach attendees tend to drink heavily — as a safety measure, many write their names on their arms in marker in case they black out and get lost, Fendig said.
“I’ve had many women that came back so drunk at the end of the day and get on buses, they didn’t know where to go and they didn’t have any ID on them,” Fendig said. “This wouldn’t be allowed any other day of the year if it was a group of citizens that have behaved in such a way, and we just can’t look the other way on this.”