More than eight million students participate in interscholastic sports and afterschool programs annually, with approximately 336 million spectators attending those events. Threats, new and old, lurk around each corner, and for every athletic administrator tasked with providing a safe environment, the stakes have never been higher.
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High school athletic administrators encounter numerous challenges in how they prepare and manage sporting events at their respective schools, but a top priority addressed in-depth in the guide is staff training and development, an area that has always been an issue for Biloxi (Miss.) High School athletic director Tom Gladney, who relies on coaches from other sports to assist at events. "One of the biggest challenges is getting coaches to understand the importance of their job, whether it is to watch a gate or to help supervise in the stands," he says. "We pay coaches a good stipend, but part of that means they have to help at home events. Many times, they get to talking to someone and do not really do their job."
Marmion Dambrino, director of athletics with the Houston Independent School District, believes most high schools need to show the same security concern from 3:30 to 11 p.m. that they do during normal school hours of 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. "Most high schools are deficient in not having after-hours emergency plans," Dambrino says, noting that her district — which includes 24 high schools and 43 middles schools with athletic departments — excels in after-hours athletic event security.
"From the time any of our events are scheduled, we begin communicating with our district police departments and the sergeants who schedule officers at our district venues," she continues. "All parties involved in a contest or practice have a common understanding of all details pertaining to the event, and the communication is very open and clear."
As easily as administrators could come up with a long list of safety and security concerns, they were also quick to cite a major roadblock to addressing them: budgets. Not only were administrators up against more pressing needs, such as new uniforms, but there remains the idea that if something isn't broken, why fix it?
But if all things were equal, one investment both Gladney and Dambino would not hesitate to make would be in video surveillance. "I would like to have more cameras and cameras that work," says Gladney. "We have lots of cameras, but it always seems like whenever we have an issue, they aren't working."
Says Dambrino, "I would love to have multiple cameras installed at each athletic field and field house, and have the staff to monitor those cameras 24 hours a day, with double the staff during events."
One element addressed in various sections of the guide is one that will continue to remain a top concern for Gladney: the weather. "The long-term security threat that looms for us is a hurricane," he says. "I was not here when Katrina hit and I hope I never see one, but you still have to be prepared for that type of threat."
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Gameday Security with the title "High Alert"
Dennis Van Milligen is former editor in chief of Gameday Security.