After a bench- and-stands-clearing brawl between players and fans of Northwestern and Eleanor Roosevelt high schools during a basketball game last February, Prince George's County high school officials and county Co-Supervisor of Athletics Chuck Brown felt that new guidelines were desperately needed to control fan behavior at athletic events.
"We established some new rules because we didn't want a recurrence of what happened at Roosevelt to happen again," Brown said at the time. "We hadn't had that many bad incidents involving either fans or players, but one is too many. We are hoping this action will deter any further problems."
The new rules included:Suspending from school any student or player who enters a playing area to engage in fighting.Declaring a game no contest and giving both teams a loss should they become involved in a bench-clearing incident.Forfeiting all games if a team cannot field a team because of suspensions.
Area athletic directors and school officials say there has been a decrease in serious incidents involving fans or players the past few years and they are hoping that trend continues.
"Judging from the reports turned in and from games I've witnessed, I have to say the fan behavior overall has been good," said Earl Gillespie, the Virginia High School League official in charge of sportsmanship.
"There are some isolated incidents but the schools have been able to handle those. The policy is for each school to be responsible for its players and fans at the contests. If any incidents occur, it is up to the school administrators to take the appropriate steps to handle the problems. If they can't or don't, then the matter could be referred to the sportsmanship committee here and we'd look into it. There were about 25-30 incidents reported last year but none were serious enough for us to get involved."
Even with the situation improved, officials still list fan behavior as one of their major concerns.
"Most of our problems occur after games in the communities, not during the games," said Otto Jordan, athletic director for the D.C. Public Schools' Interhigh League. "We had a few negative reports last year following games but, overall, everything has been fine. All of the credit has to go to the public school security office, the school administrators, police department and the D.C. Recreation Department Roving Leaders. All of them play big parts in controlling things."
In the late '60s and '70s, there were a number of on-field and after-game tussles involving students and players during football and basketball games, particularly during games involving longtime archrivals.
The worst happened at RFK (then D.C.) Stadium following the Eastern-St. John's city championship football game on Thanksgiving morning in 1962 when several hundred people among a capacity crowd of 50,033 were injured.
School officials say there is a new breed of student in the '80s, possibly accounting for the drop in participants and fans. Teams are down in numbers throughout the area and game attendance, with the exception of several of the larger schools in Virginia and Maryland at night football games, has also dipped.
"I wish we knew the answer," said Bill Kyle, coordinator of athletics for boys in Montgomery County. "It might be a mixture of things. Girls, instead of being the spectators they were in the '60s and '70s, are now participants. And students have jobs or other activities that keep them away."
Unlike Prince George's County, which hopes its new guidelines will not have to be used, the other jurisdictions do not have automatic directives regarding behavior. The other jurisdictions allow the respective school districts to establish their own rules and impose their own punishments.
"The schools make their own decisions about crowd control depending upon the stadium, opponents, etc.," said Metro Conference Comissioner Dallas Shirley. "I don't know of any major problems involving any schools lately and we hope it stays that way."