Bement (Ill.) High School administrators branded it a "Spring Celebration of Homecoming," as the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed football season from fall to spring. While the usual dance would not take place, the court had been announced, the parade route had been mapped out, and the Cerro-Gordo-Bement Broncos were set to take on the Argenta-Oreana Bombers at 7 p.m. on April 9.
Despite all the planning, things didn't proceed without a major hitch.
"The night before our homecoming football game, someone went out on the football field and dug six pretty good-sized holes in the football field itself," says Bement superintendent Sheila Greenwood. "Then they divided the sod up into little pieces, so that when you looked at that field, you weren't sure whether it was 100 little holes or a flock of birds."
The vandals didn't stop there. Portable toilets were overturned, several boxes of nails were strewn about the track and parking areas, and barriers meant to ensure distancing at entry points were torn down. Toilet paper draped everything. Still, the top priority for Greenwood and her staff was to have the football field playable by kickoff.
With the help of athletic director Steve Cline, maintenance staff members immediately got to work filling holes and replacing sod. They used magnets to ensure that all the nails were collected from the track and parking lot. By 2 p.m., the recovery team had addressed an estimated $1,000 in damage, and the field was ready to go.
Greenwood says the main concern was for the safety of the student-athletes who would have to play on the field that evening. "You worry about the stability of the kids when they're running on the field, so it took a while to get things ready so no one would get hurt."
The game was played, but the Broncos did not prevail, losing to Argenta-Oreana, 34-30.
That night, to the displeasure of at least one neighbor, the lights were left on for security purposes. "We had one neighbor who called and said the lights shined right into his bedroom," Greenwood says "We're really trying to be mindful of our community."
To that end, Greenwood began work the next day on a permanent solution. "I brought out the company that does our electrical work and they also do security cameras," she says. "They came to the site, and we walked it and they gave me some options."
In the end, Bement dedicated $10,000 for new LED lighting, which was chosen for both the football and baseball fields because light spillage is limited. Closed-circuit cameras with storage will cover the fields, as well as the entrance to the athletics facilities. Greenwood says the lights will now shine "from dusk 'til dawn."
The school has been lucky that it hasn't seen much vandalism in the past, but Greenwood wants to be sure it is prepared for any future incidents.
Like most schools, Bement has to justify its expenditures. In this case, Greenwood says the incident and planned improvements were discussed with full transparency at an open session.
"We're just trying to come up with the best solution and not break the bank, and just be enough of a deterrent," she says, adding that police have a suspect and have subpoenaed phone records as they investigate. "I just want to be able to prosecute next time and get the money back and not just keep shelling it out."
Installation of the new lighting and cameras was set to begin in late May, with the entire project expected to only take two to three weeks. Nevertheless, the money spent on a problem that Bement had heretofore managed to avoid was hard to swallow.
"It's frustrating to throw $10,000 at this, but at the same time that may save us at least that much in vandalism," Greenwood says, adding that her district had the resources to invest. "We're very fortunate, because we have a 1 percent facility sales tax, and if we needed to use that, we could. We also have grant funds, so we're in pretty good shape."
Guidance from NCS4
The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety & Security at the University of Southern Mississippi recognizes off-hours and non-game-day security as an important part of operations for any high school or youth athletics facility. NCS4 suggests the following security protocols regarding lighting and cameras:
This article originally appeared in the July|August 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Lights, cameras, security How vandals spurred one high school to protect its athletics fields." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.