It was a situation that, according to reports, school officials should've seen coming.
Rough play and questionable calls by referees had tension steadily building during a January boys' basketball game between Baytown Lee (Tex.) High School and Lumberton High School. In the fourth quarter, even the coaches engaged in a shouting match. It was only a matter of time before the game turned physical between the two teams. And when the inevitable happened, the unpredictable followed. Fans from both teams flooded the court and engaged in a fight that ultimately lead to all fans being kicked out of the gym so the game could be finished.
Elsewhere, around that same time, there was a fight along the baseline of a New York boys' basketball game between North Babylon High School and Copiague High School that lead to one teen arrested, and one concussion sustained by a security guard. And two girls' basketball teams postponed playing future games pending an investigation after a fight involving spectators and players. In that event, more police had to be called to the scene when the fight spiraled out of the control of those few officers assigned to the game. All three of these events occurred within days of one another.
Fights, sadly, are a part of the high school sports experience as the mixture of passionate teenagers, parents and spectators in a heightened sensory environment have proved to be a toxic combination far too often. While that is an issue, it's not the real issue. Even to a certain extent, the issue isn't the emergency response plans, or lack thereof, that these schools have or don't have in place. No, the bigger issue is the lack of a proactive approach to security on the high school level; that lack of investing in the necessary resources to ensure the safest possible environment. Many schools do not want to make the necessary commitment to sports security as it is deemed an unnecessary expense. Rather than using what's being done on the professional and collegiate levels as a template, high schools remain stuck in the dangerous mindset of "this has never happened to us and it never will."
Or, they claim they want to do something, but don't have the financial means to do so. If these schools can raise money for new uniforms, why can't they raise money for security-related items? If you ask a parent which is more important to them, I doubt any care more about how their child looks versus how they are being protected. In an article I wrote last September on entrance screening at high schools, 85 percent of our social media survey respondents said they would feel good about entrance screening at their school, and that it would make them feel safer.
So why do so many schools not utilize any type of screening technology? Just because weapons weren't used in those fights mentioned previously, it doesn't mean that won't happen in the future as it is relatively easy for spectators to bring weapons into a high school sporting event — or other items capable of greater destruction.
The good news is that this is not something that has gone unrecognized by those leading the high school sports security charge. Organizations like Safe Sport Zone exist to change the mindset in high schools across the country, helping them approach safety from a proactive standpoint versus the traditional reactive standpoint. And the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) will be hosting a groundbreaking summit in March to share ideas and explore solutions with the goal of establishing best safety and security practices on the interscholastic level. So there is hope on the horizon, but we can only get there as an industry by being staunchly committed to achieving this one goal together.