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Readers recall 'rites of passage'

It was homecoming weekend at North Dakota State University when Angela Neumiller turned 21 two years ago. Shortly after midnight, she walked into a bar with some friends and her parents and began drinking the first of eights shots and three mixed...

It was homecoming weekend at North Dakota State University when Angela Neumiller turned 21 two years ago. Shortly after midnight, she walked into a bar with some friends and her parents and began drinking the first of eights shots and three mixed drinks. This was her "power hour."

She got drunk that night, though she didn't notice until she stood up. What she didn't do is plan to drink 21 shots.

"Power hour is just something at midnight. I never had any intention of trying to drink 21 shots," said Neumiller, 23, of Fargo.

More than a decade earlier, in 1990, Ryan Christiansen sat down at midnight in the VFW in Moorhead and ordered a drink in a bar for the first time.

"I remember feeling like it was sort of that giggly feeling," said Christiansen, 34, of West Fargo. "Hey, look at me. I'm sitting here having a drink at the bar, isn't that cool?"


The bartender, who was Christiansen's girlfriend at the time, poured him two Colorado Bulldogs. Then he went home.

Christiansen and Neumiller, who responded to e-mail questions as part of The Forum's "Real People Bank," said they think their "power hours" are not unusual.

The practice has come under close scrutiny after the March 15 death of Jason Reinhardt. Reinhardt died in the early morning on his 21st birthday after drinking 16 shots in one hour at Coach's Sports Pub in Moorhead. Police said he had a blood alcohol level of .363 at the time of his death.

Christiansen, Neumiller and others say that the so-called "power hour," the time between midnight and bar close on a person's 21st birthday, is a tradition that, while fraught with possible danger, is decades old and prevalent across the country.

'Rite of passage'

"It's a rite of passage," said Neumiller, a NDSU graduate and current student. "It's an exciting moment. It's a big deal at that time."

Christiansen said that while he doesn't remember people calling it "power hour" in 1990, those turning 21 often went to the bar at midnight on the morning they turned.

"There was no such term, it was just common knowledge," he said.


Neumiller said she thinks public discussion of the "power hour" has mistakenly assumed that it involves drinking 21 shots. She said most of her friends had around five or six drinks on their 21st birthdays.

She also said she doesn't think it's a practice bars explicitly promote.

"It's a term coined by young people," she said. "It's nothing where a bar has said, 'Come do your 'power hour' here.' "

Jean Forsberg, 25, of Hutchinson, Minn., said when she turned 21 she didn't go out until the Saturday after her birthday. She hadn't heard of "power hours" at the time.

"To me, I just think it's kind of a dumb idea that people would actually go out at midnight and drink that many drinks right away that first hour," Forsberg said.

Tony McRae, a 70-year-old Fargo man, said he doesn't remember much of a fuss at all when he became legal age to drink, which was 18 at the time.

"It (alcohol) was just there," McRae said. "It wasn't looked upon as something bad. It was just part of every day."

Christiansen said while he thinks the "power hour" practice is not new, he is surprised more young people don't think it's dangerous.


"But then part of me isn't surprised because I remember people in high school drinking a 1.75 (liter) bottle of whiskey every weekend," he said.

Local phenomenon?

Neumiller said she does not think "power hours" are a Fargo-Moorhead phenomenon.

"I think it's probably one of those things that just happens throughout the country," she said.

Jim Selix, a 24-year-old University of Minnesota graduate, agrees. He did his "power hour" in Minneapolis, drinking enough that he woke up the next day at noon still drunk.

"I think it's like that everywhere," said Selix, of Minneapolis. "It's just one of those things you do."

Anne Buchanan, Reinhardt's mother, said she thinks the "power hour" is less prevalent. She believes it is a regional tradition.

"I talked to my sister in Colorado, who is a bartender, and she's never heard of power hour before," she said. "So that's why I'm beginning to think that it's this area."


Officials in other college towns said while they had not specifically had problems with "power hours," binge drinking was a major problem on their campuses.

"In general, over the last several years, I've seen more alcohol consumption by a smaller number of people," said Jerry Bulisco, associate dean of student life at University of North Dakota.

St. Cloud (Minn.) Police Chief Dennis Ballantine said the major law enforcement concern at St. Cloud State University was alcohol abuse.

"It wouldn't shock me if it happened here," Ballantine said. "If you go downtown to bar-closing time in St. Cloud when the students are down there, it'd probably be tough to pick who's had 21 shots and who hasn't."

Bars' responsibility

Though she took part in one herself, Neumiller said she recognizes the danger of "power hours." She thinks keeping 21-year-olds out of bars until noon on their birthdays would help prevent future tragedies.

"That way they're not trying to cram all this drinking into one hour," she said.

McRae said he thinks bars should shoulder some of the responsibility for binge-drinking birthday celebrations.


"If you have someone power drinking in your bar and you say, 'Gee, we didn't notice this,' I think that's pretty reprehensible," McRae said.

Forsberg agrees that bars need to watch patrons more and limit the amount served to people celebrating their 21st birthdays.

"I think bars need to control how much alcohol's being served between midnight and 1 and 2, whenever they close," she said.

Bulisco said officials and student groups at UND have used a wide range of educational programs, enforcement policies and other campaigns to try to cut down on binge drinking.

These efforts have included sending birthday cards to students turning 21, notifying parents of underage drinkers who have been caught by campus officials or police and putting on social programs aimed at raising awareness of alcohol abuse.

"We're going to provide them with lots of tools to make the right decisions," Bulisco said. "They're not always going to make those right decisions."

Neumiller said she thinks it is difficult for adults to connect with young people because alcohol use is often a way of rebelling.

"The way they preach about it makes college students want to do it even more," she said.


McRae said the key to getting the message across is being honest about both the perils and the positives of alcohol.

"We have to talk about dangers of alcohol. You have to," he said. "But to stress that, to talk about alcohol as something evil, as a bad thing, does a lot of damage."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5529

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