The rule changes for sports games are too strict on students
After a physical fight between athletes on the Gaithersburg and Northwest football teams on September 16, multiple students and a 19-year old were charged with assault. Since then, sports games in high schools across the county have changed. Exits are guarded with more security, students from schools besides those competing must be accompanied by an adult chaperone and all attendees have to remain sitting in the stands during the game. The punitive and misguided changes MCPS made to keep sports games safe are not proportional to the scale of the fight, and they restrict the ability of students to enjoy high school sports.
Fights at football games, and high schools in general, are not a rarity. What is uncommon, however, is adults joining in. William Gant, Gaithersburg’s athletic director, filed a misdemeanor second degree assault charge against Northwest's high school coach Travis Hawkins, alleging that he failed to de-escalate the brawl. Although the charge has since been dropped, tension between adults on the field may have prompted more players to join in, further escalating the fight. Samual Nosoff, the head coach for the Blair varsity football team, describes his reaction upon hearing news of the unusual fight. “When I heard that the coaches were involved [in the fighting], and athletic directors were involved, that’s a first for me,” Nosoff said.
Former Blair varsity football coach Daniel Cole, also commented on the incident. “It started with kids on the field fighting as members of teams, which happens, but…you have to be able to trust the adults that are in positions of authority, that they are prepared for and trained for [fights on the field],” Cole says.
In most cases, this is true; adults on the field are able to coordinate and prevent fights before they happen. At Blair, Nosoff and the many assistant coaches watch players’ mental state and remove them from the situation if they seem unstable. “When the tensions rise, we have a lot of coaches here that are constantly monitoring… the physical side and the mental side of the game, so if we need to pull someone off a play early, we’ll do that just to prevent things from escalating,” Nosoff said.
Given that no event similar to the Gaithersburg fight has ever popped up in the news, most schools in the county are at least competent at preventing fights from escalating. It is not reasonable, then, to punish schools for something with which they were never involved.
The changes become even more perplexing when considering that some of them reduce game attendance. For example, any students not from the schools participating in a sports game must be accompanied by an adult for the entire game.
Athletic Director Rita Boule says that chaperoning is a necessary step to prevent people from other schools causing trouble. “Unfortunately, visiting students from neither school have been problems at those schools' games, in numerous places. We know as athletic directors that the other kids from other schools sometimes are the problem, and no adult is there to… calm that behavior,” Boule says.
Students see things differently. Senior Jack Bevington is a member of the Blazer Ragers spirit club at Blair, and doesn’t see kids from other schools as the issue. “The people who are fighting are the kids who go to the schools [competing] because they actually care about the result of the game. If a kid from B-CC comes to a Blair vs. Einstein game, they’re not gonna start a fight and care about the outcome,” Bevington says.
Additionally, students from any school cannot attend games after halftime. Similar to the chaperone rule, it is well intentioned; it attempts to prevent people who do not actually care about the game from causing conflict. What this rule ignores, however, is that the second half of a game is the most exciting to watch, as it usually defines which team will win. Consequently, people who can’t watch the whole game will come to the second half to see the outcome. Now, those same people have to decide between seeing their school compete or rearranging their schedule.
High school sports games are supposed to be community events where students come together. Restricting who can attend, and when, diminishes this purpose by discouraging interconnection among students of different schools.
The disconnect between student and adult perspective on school safety extends to police presence as well. Armed police, as well as more security staff, have become more present at Blair football games since the changes. Boule believes this will send a message of stability and safety. “When you’re bringing in more security, when you’re bringing in more police officers, when you’re bringing in more adults, it’s not to squash the level of fun, it is to say to the community: ‘We are here as a community running a safe event,” Boule says.
Although more police decrease the likelihood of a fight escalating, they also weigh on the atmosphere of what is supposed to be a fun and festive event, especially when students are entering and leaving. As part of the changes, MCPS announced that “high traffic areas'' will be subject to additional security and staggered exits. Entering and exiting games is expected to take extra time because of “enhanced security measures.” Considering the size of Blair’s student body, and the relatively narrow entrances to the stands and at the ticket booth, security is bound to be heavy.
While it may be preventative to implement stricter rules across the county, it is also punitive to punish the entire county for an incident between only two high schools, especially since coaches fighting at a game is so rare.
For example, at Blair, most of the safety measures the county introduced already existed, such as the “no backpack” policy and a student ID requirement. Blair also has separate stands for the home and away fans, which helps prevent fighting in the stands. This was not true at Gaithersburg, where the close proximity of the opposing sides was the likely cause of a post-game scuffle in the school’s parking lot.
In trying to address the controversy and outrage of a very localized issue, MCPS has created county-wide issues, and demonstrated their disconnect with the student bodies of their high schools. Student safety may be their top priority, but by being reactionary instead of proactive, they have had to be much stricter in their approach, and the result will be less energy from fewer people in the stands.
Gabe Prevots. Hi, I'm Gabe (he/him), a senior at Montgomery Blair High School and the features editor of SCO. I enjoy biking, walking my dog and correcting minor mistakes in my stories. If you find any, let me know! More »