Thomas Johnson High School's boys basketball team had just defeated Kennedy, 70-45, Friday in a physical Maryland Class 3A West Region championship game before a home crowd of nearly 2,000 in Frederick. Traditionally, the next move for the Patriots would have been to cut down the nets as their friends and families cheered.

Instead, at the final buzzer Patriots Coach Tom Dickman found himself hurrying his team to the locker room as many unruly fans spilled onto the court. Several fights erupted between fans from both schools.

"We just had won the biggest game of the season," said Dickman. "This should have been one of the best moments of these kids' lives. And instead of cutting down the nets, my kids are in the locker room with their heads down. I was just scared about what would happen. I had my daughter with me. I was concerned for her."

The incident, which resulted in the arrest of three spectators, was one of four at Maryland private and public school basketball games over the past three weeks.

A boys game at Broadneck High in Annapolis Friday required 15 police officers to restore order after a member of the Douglass of Baltimore team punched a Broadneck player and sparked a melee in which the father of the injured player rushed to his son's aid.

Entering this week's Maryland and Virginia state tournaments, many associated with interscholastic athletics in the Washington area are concerned about the violence and what measures must be taken to control increasingly volatile crowds. Thomas Johnson and Broadneck will meet in a state semifinal at Cole Field House at 3 p.m. Thursday.

"There is nothing that will kill interscholastic sports faster than acceptance of that kind of behavior," said Ned Sparks, executive secretary of the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association. "I would hope people are outraged and to the point where they are going to take some steps. The real legitimacy with our athletic program is that it is tied to the educational system -- kids learn from this. If it is allowed to deteriorate to this point, you can safely say there is no educational value."

For the second consecutive season, fans attending the three-day Maryland boys tournaments at Cole Field House will have to enter through metal detectors.

Virginia High School League executive director Ken Tilley said Virginia's Department of Education, in conjunction with the VHSL, has sent a report on violence at athletic events to Gov. George Allen and the General Assembly.

"You have to hold the schools accountable for what happens at their events," said Tilley, who added that two Virginia schools have recently received warnings in regard to sportsmanship and lack of proper security. "Officials, coaches, players, fans . . . everyone has a responsibility in this. All those different elements have a role in making sure the game is conducted properly, and if anyone of them fails in that role, you have a greater likelihood of a problem occurring."

However, even those involved in the recent incidents are unsure of what measures must be taken to curb the disturbances.

At Thomas Johnson, fans of both sides allege that the physical nature of the one-sided contest led to racial slurs being exchanged throughout the game among the packed crowd. Thomas Johnson Principal Joe Heidel said he helped the police eject three spectators early in the game.

Before the game ended, Frederick city and Maryland state police were called to assist two off-duty officers Thomas Johnson had hired for security. But that could not prevent the problems at game's end or in the parking lots, where the three arrests were made. Police escorted Kennedy's buses to Interstate 270, where they were met by Montgomery County police and escorted back to Silver Spring.

"I am not sure what else could have been done," said Heidel. "My one suggestion for future games is that if a principal of one school senses a potential problem before a game, they should contact the principal of the other so extra police officers can be on hand. Like this case, when these things happen, it usually does not involve students. Maybe we can't have night games anymore. Maybe we have to start games earlier. Maybe, when we sense problems, we have to play the games without fans."

The latter option was chosen by Good Counsel and Elizabeth Seton to finish their girls game three weeks ago. When a fight in the stands -- which led to one arrest and the overnight hospitalization of one student -- interrupted the game at Good Counsel's gym in Wheaton, the final 5 minutes 51 seconds were played six days later with fans and the media barred from attending.

On Feb. 21, the Gwynn Park-Parkdale boys game was suspended with 1:49 remaining after two opposing coaches began pushing and shoving in front of the scorer's table. That triggered fans to come onto the court at the Brandywine gym. The game wasn't completed and host Gwynn Park was awarded the victory.

Although fights among competing athletes have long been a part of sports, the involvement of fans and others is forcing a new look at the problem.

Among those affected at the Thomas Johnson-Kennedy game was Dallas Munger, a senior who dresses as the Thomas Johnson mascot.

"A couple people came up to me, which is normal because people want to see the costume," he said. "All of a sudden, I felt my mask get punched, I got shoved around and, by the time I got the mask off, whoever it was was gone."

Kennedy Principal Steven Tarason, who attended the game, said the tone set by game officials filtered to the crowd.

"When the game started," said Tarason, "I felt immediately that it was a physical game. It was in-your-face kind of stuff -- chest to chest. If the game is out of control, the crowd is out of control. When the game is already won, the focus shifts from the court to the stands. . . . {That was part} of a whole series of events that contributed."

At Broadneck, three Douglass of Baltimore players were ejected after Douglass senior Lamara Prilliman threw a punch at Broadneck's Eric Elston with 1:38 left in the third quarter. Players from both sides, Douglass Coach John Nash and Elston's father had to be restrained by the six officers on duty as fans rushed the court.

Nash refused to comment about the incident, but Broadneck Coach Ken Kazmarek remains upset.

"I have been around for 15 years and have never seen anything like it," said Kazmarek. "It was a throwback to a completely uncontrolled situation. I would hope, in the future, something would be done in some way that a message could be sent by the state to show this kind of behavior will not be tolerated." Special correspondent Jon DeNunzio and staff writer Neil H. Greenberger contributed to this report.