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Fights in the stands mar high school basketball

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On Feb. 22, Waterloo (Iowa) West and East high schools will meet in a rematch of their heated rivalry — basketball and otherwise. The first game, at East on Feb. 6,  was called with 2:42 to go because of two fights that had broken out in the stands, resulting in six arrests. It lead to all sorts of restrictions on who could buy tickets to the rematch. From the Waterloo Courier:

The district announced today that both adult and student tickets will be sold only during business office hours between Feb. 15 and Feb. 19. Only students with a valid student identification can purchase tickets.

Tickets will not be sold to students:

At the Waterloo Education Behavior Center or Devonshire.

Who have been suspended during the school year for fighting, defiance or insubordination.

Involved in the disturbance during the Feb. 6 basketball game.

Identified by the school resource officers as having gang affiliations.

Who administrators from either school have major concerns with.

The Feb. 22 boys basketball substate game at West High begins at 6 p.m. No one will be allowed in after 6:15 p.m., even if they bought a ticket.

This might seem rather extreme, except that fights are breaking out all over at high school basketball games, and unlike the recent Spain Park vs. Hoover battle in Alabama, or the Florida fight at which the dim-bulb assistant coach chest-bumped a player to congratulate him on his fighting form, more often than not the combatants are not on the floor.

In the last week, two shootings — in Kentucky and South Carolina — have occurred outside gyms while games were under way. On Feb. 12, four adults were arrested when a fight during the postgame handshake turned into a free-for-all in Enfield, Conn. (At least two players are being targeted for arrest.) A Feb. 10 Seneca-Daniel game in South Carolina initially was going to be played without a crowd watching — though the schools relented and let them in — after a shooting in a home where two players of the Seneca team were present, followed by threats against Daniel players. A Feb. 4 game on California’s East Bay was postponed after authorities heard of threats of violence to occur during the game. In Memphis, a Feb. 9 makeup game was played after school, with no student fans, because pregame fights in the stands had forced that game to be postponed before it ever tipped off. And in Monhassen, Pa., fights outside and inside the gym during halftime ended with multiple arrest and at least one tasing.

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Fights at high school basketball games are not a recent phenomenon. In Waterloo, it’s noted that the Feb. 6 brawl wasn’t nearly as bad as one between West and East in 1988. Playing without fans has been a longtime strategy to reduce the risk of violence. Parents, for the most part you are safe to send your children to a high school basketball game without fear of them getting shot or popped in the mouth.

However, they highlight a problem about security at high school or youth sporting events — it’s not very good, or nonexistent.

Ken Trump thinks so. OK, he might be a bit biased, given he runs a company that advises schools on security, athletic and otherwise. Still, he makes some salient points about why you’re more likely to see someone wrestling in the stands at a high school basketball than you are any professional event — and the high school game doesn’t even sell you beer. Here are Trump’s reasons why:

  • Large crowds of spectators, potentially by the thousands, depending upon the nature and type of event.  Spectators at high school basketball and football games, for example, may include students from both participating schools, students from other schools, former students, parents, community members, etc.
  • Crowd psychology tells us that some individuals who may otherwise not act aggressively in “normal,” one-on-one environments may act out aggressively in a crowd.  This is often attributed to the real and perceived anonymity provided by a large crowd, as well as the crowd emotions created within the large gathering.
  • Lower levels of adult supervision, visibility, and mobility.  Too often schools under-staff athletic events, especially in terms of police officers and security personnel staffing, in order to save limited funds out of athletic department and/or school-based budgets.
  • Increased emotions among spectator crowds, especially when there are intense rivalries between playing teams.
  • Increased access to, and exposure of, the larger physical plant areas. These areas may include stadiums, athletic fields, parking lots, school gyms, locker rooms, and potentially the entire school itself if exit doors are not secured and inside gates are not used to section off and seal down unused areas of the building.
  • Higher risk for drug and alcohol consumption before, during, and after games by spectators.
  • Higher risk for gang member presence and potential activity in those school communities experiencing gang activity.

Trump notes that often security is done on the cheap, or not all, because of school’s own financial restrictions. However, he said for busy schools, finding the time to think about security is a bigger problem.

However, finances are becoming a bigger issue. Trump notes that schools are cutting security officers as a way to balance their budgets; for example, the Indianapolis Public Schools plans to cut about 15 of its 75 officers. Also, cuts to local police departments reduce the availability of officers to patrol schools, or school events.

Does that mean more schools, like in Waterloo, Iowa, will be restricting their basketball ticket sales to prevent violence? It’s tough to say, and I’m not sure we’ll have an empirical way of knowing. But you might tell you kids, as you drop them, to keep an eye open to what’s going on around them, and if there’s trouble, just get out of there.

Written by rkcookjr

February 17, 2010 at 11:42 am