Prevention Is The Best Policy To Police Storming Students
It’s March 1995 in downtown Milwaukee, Wis. I’m a freshman at Marquette University, and a group of us head down to the MECCA Arena to watch our recently turned Warriors-to-Golden-Eagles play South Florida in an NIT game for the privilege of moving on to the tourney’s final four in New York City (these weren’t the best of times for Marquette hoops).
Marquette wins the game, sealed by a clutch 3-pointer in the game’s final 10 seconds. Seated at the floor level less than 10 rows from the action, my friends and I follow the hundreds of students onto the MECCA floor (and past the helpless lot of limited arena security) after the victory.
We scream, holler and watch senior guard Tony Miller get hoisted above the mob by several students. Eventually, things die down, we walk to the exits and spurred by the victory, make the 20-block journey back to the dorms on foot despite the plummeting Wisconsin temperatures.
It’s the best memory I have of attending basketball games from that season (again, this was an NIT team), but I’m lucky our celebration didn’t end in a stampede with trampled students or injured players.
Looking back, no one seemed prepared for the students to flood the court. No precautions were introduced, and I don’t remember anyone taking any preventative measures to keep us from that 94 feet of real estate where we didn’t belong.
Fast forward to Dec. 3 2011, at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., where the Oklahoma State Cowboys just ripped the in-state rival Sooners, 44-10. Despite warnings from the public address announcer and some security on the field, students pour out of the stands and create a mob scene.
When watching the raw video released by the Associated Press, you hear fans in the stands yelling for the goal posts to be torn down. Within minutes, the giant beams are plunging toward the students. At least 12 people are injured during the 45 minutes of “bedlam” on the field.
Dr. Lou Marciani is the director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety & Security in Hattiesburg, Miss. He’s the former athletic director at Western Kentucky University and Drexel University (among others).
Marciani works with colleges and high schools to prevent examples like the previously described incidents, but does admit, “I’m surprised more of the bigger high schools haven’t reached out to us.” Marciani says that while containing a crowd of more than 60 000 in Stillwater is much different than a typical high school after an emotional rivalry game, there are five specific preventative methods of keeping students off your field.
1. Have An Emergency Plan. Marciani admits that “most high schools do a good job with this, but if your school doesn’t have a plan in writing, now is the time to do it. Beyond controlling students after a game, this also involves how to handle injuries in the stands, weather emergencies where large numbers of people have to be moved quickly or even a threat against a coach or player.
2. Partner With Police. Again, high schools are doing this, but may not do it enough. “Any time you suspect a game is going to be more emotional, let the local police know you are going to need more support, advises Marciani.
3. Appeal To The Masses. Have the most-visible member of your team, typically the coach, record a pregame video announcement to play on the scoreboard encouraging sportsmanship and informing students to stay off the field or court. Or, have the coach address the crowd with a microphone beforehand to give the message a personal touch.
4. Supervise The Stands. Get members of your faculty to serve as supervisors in the stands during the game. Have them patrol up and down the bleachers, keeping an eye on things that seem out of the ordinary or fans who appear unruly.
5. Initiate A Physical Presence. Don’t just send a couple of security officers toward the field or court in the final seconds of a heated game. Have the police form a ring around the playing surface (especially close to the goal posts on the football field), says Marciani. Be sure you have enough of a presence to make fans think twice about entering the field of play.
“Athletic directors should have a feel for the environment and understand when police need to be in position for safety’s sake, Marciani says.
He also advises schools to police social media prior to a big contest. He says to monitor student and fan Facebook pages or Twitter feeds to see if something is being planned prior to the game. The more you know ahead of time means a better chance of preventing a tragedy in the minutes following an emotional victory over a hated rival.
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