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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Going To a High School Football Game

Violence and High School Football

Jodi Upton of USA Today (November 23, 2005) related a spike in violent incidents at and around high school football games has been very troubling. "Federal figures showed schools are safer than a decade ago -- the violent crime rate in 2003 was about half of that in 1992. But during football season, evidence of a rise in problems at and around games was visible," says Ken Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm.

"When I looked at the incidents this year, it jumped right out," Trump says. With 31 football-related incidents this year (2005) compared with 21 last year, according to research by USA Today and Trump's firm, school officials nationally are seeking ways to combat problems.


Trumps said there is no one cause for the recent upswing in violence; however, he believes it's mainly a combination of understaffing and opportunity. Security experts claim football stadiums present a perfect environment and opportunity to settle a score: a distracted crowd, an overwhelmed and often undertrained security staff, and access to rivals not available during school hours.


When an incident does occur, the schools' responses to the problem vary. Some administrators fall somewhere between denial and bargaining: It was a one-time occurrence; it was non-students causing problems; it was across the street from the stadium.


"Everyone is so afraid of having a school tagged as dangerous. I tell them to take ownership," says Curt Lavarell, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, a group of police, sheriffs and school superintendents. "The longer you point fingers, the longer we'll not resolve this problem." (Jodi Upton, USA Today, November 23 2005)

Among the Incidents:

*In Goldsboro, North Carolina, a high school team played their homecoming game in 2004 to an audience of parents only. Rumors had been flying that kids were planning to fight. (Daniel de Vise, The Washington Post, November 10 2005) 


*In Canton, Texas, a high school football coach was shot and critically wounded by the father of one of his players because the coach had named his own son quarterback of the team. In 2002, the year before the coach's arrival, Canton finished 3-7; his first season the team improved to 8-4 including the first playoff win since 1964; then, in 2004, Canton finished 8-2, narrowly missing the playoffs. The suspect had been barred from the school after several earlier confrontations, including one in which he was accused of shoving coaches at a picnic. Another athlete's father said the man had threatened to kill his son the year before over an on-field teasing (, April 7 2005) 


*In Burtonsville, Maryland, a 15-year-old sophomore was stabbed to death after a football game between two high schools. A 15-year-old girl was charged with second-degree murder. And, the next day, a girl died from a brain injury received following a fight after a football gam in Germantown. Police charged two men, an 18 year-old and a 17-year-old in that attack. (C. Benjamin Ford and Sean R. Sedam,, September 28, 2005)

*In the Nashville area, four men were arrested October 28 after unannounced use of a metal detector at the stadium gates led to the discovery of guns the men apparently planned to take into the game. (Jodi Upton, USA Today, November 23 2005)


*At Mount Vernon High School in suburban New York, the team played their homecoming game amid silence, the contest decided in an empty stadium because a hometown man had been shot dead in the city of the team's rival the week before. (Daniel de Vise,The Washington Post, November 10, 2005) 


*One teenager was killed and nine were wounded in a series of fights in suburban Dallas after three separate football games between long-standing rivals. In at least one of the October 7 fights, police said as many as 50 people were involved when someone began shooting. (Jodi Upton, USA Today, November 23 2005)

*In the Richmond, Va., area, multiple fights broke out after two separate football games, September 16 and October 15, leaving three officers injured and nearly a dozen people arrested. (Jodi Upton, USA Today, November 23 2005)

*In Wetumpka, Alabama, three students from one high school and one from another were charged with murder in a fatal shooting that apparently occurred after an argument over which school had a better football team. The shooting happened at a back-to-school event in Wetumpka at the National Guard armory. (Fox News, August 13 2007) 


*In Nampa, Idaho, an 18-year-old student was charged with aggravated battery after police say he severely beat (broken nose and broken bones around the eyesocket) his own coach (punched him several times in the face) at the end of a football game as his coach attempted to break up a fight between him and an opposing player. (Kipton Ramos, The Weekly Vice, November 3 2008)

*In Delta, British Columbia, twelve female high school students sporting only their underwear and duct tape around their breasts ran across a football field during their school team's home game and sprayed silly string on the opposing team during half time. Principal Johnson said he had warned students the month before not to streak at the year's final game of the season but was, obviously, ignored.The girls, calling what they did a "harmless prank," and said streaking is a tradition at their school. "It's just kind of like a fun [graduation] prank for our year, and it's been going on for a couple of years now," said one of the girls. "It was pretty much out of fun." Johnson said he told the girls involved that they will be suspended from school if they did anything else wrong. (CBC News,, November 5 2008)

*The coach of the North Chicago High School football team this apologized to his community for the  brawl that resulted in his program's indefinite suspension by the Illinois High School Association. The coach, a former Chicago Bear and WGN-AM 720 host, described the play that sparked the melee as a "cheap shot" and said, "We were wrong." (, September 11 2009)

*In Toledo, Ohio, retired police Sergeant Richard B. Murphy said, "Violence and gangs seem to be running the post-game Friday night football here in the City of Toledo. In one weekend, 18 young people were arrested after the Bowsher High School football game. At Central Catholic when the game was let out, the street was clogged with kids. People couldn't even drive down the street. Fights broke out at each end of the street. This is the third incident this year here in the City of Toledo." (WTOL Toledo, September 25 2009)

Curing the Problems

Security is expensive. Believe it or not though, at some high-profile high school games, police patrol with semiautomatic weapons. "In Palm Beach County, Fla., for one potentially troublesome game, police have patrolled with as many as 30 officers, a helicopter unit and mounted police," says Jim Kelly, Palm Beach County School District police chief."

In the Wayne Township (Indianna) School District, in the Indianapolis area, a high-profile game attended by about 10,000 -- three times the typical crowd for a game in that district -- was staffed with 30 officers, including undercover, gang and probation officers according to Chuck Hibbert, the school district's security coordinator.

Elsewhere, schools in many cities hire an off-duty officer or two, but to keep costs down, many schools have teacher and parent volunteers to watch crowds of thousands.


Other changes, such as moving games to Saturdays or starting early on Fridays, are also costly -- and unpopular. 


Perhaps a required class for all coaches should be Anger Management. One spark of displeasure from coaches or fans can incite dangerous behavior. Surely, fans must be removed from facilities at the first sign of violent behavior. 


Perhaps, a plea from the athletes themselves for a civil, controlled competitiveness might work wonders. This could be given in the form of a P.A. announcement by captains of both teams from the field immediately before the game: No cost for the schools, a public pledge to play fair, a commitment to abide by the rules, and a request for common courtesy from the assembled fanatics.



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