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Friday night lights under fire: High school football games are being blitzed by gun violence

By David K. Li and Corky Siemaszko, NBC, September 15, 2023

Gun violence is threatening to dim Friday night lights and endangering a beloved national pastime — high school football games.

This season alone so far only six weeks into the academic year, there have already been at least 16 shootings, resulting in two deaths and 13 people wounded at games across the country, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, which has been tracking this data since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

There have been two additional incidents at high school football fields this season: one where a crowd began a stampede after someone flashed a gun, and one where gunfire ended a Pop Warner game.

Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, stated

“It’s been sad to watch,” she said. “Horrific. It’s definitely the worst I can remember in 35 years as a teacher, coach, leader in sports.”

Niehoff said that when her association meets with local sports administrators about boosting security at big games, football in particular, this kind of violence is the “elephant in the room.” She said she’s grateful that, so far, none of these shootings have turned into mass casualty events.

“We’re just praying that we never have to talk about something like that,” she said.

Last year, two Texas teenagers in a Dallas suburb who had allegedly been plotting to carry out a mass shooting at an Everman High School football game were intercepted by police before they got to the school, according to published reports. Police found an AR pistol and a 60-round magazine in their car.

“It’s almost always a dispute that escalates into violence because somebody has a gun,” he said. “What has not happened yet is a planned attack on a high school football game.”

What, besides guns, do all these incidents have in common? Insufficient security.

On one Thursday in early September, an unspecified “threat” prompted officials in suburban Cleveland to play the Shaker Heights High School-Maple Heights High School game behind closed doors, with no fans.

Multiple students “told a trusted adult that they were aware of a threat related specifically to the game,” according to Shaker Heights City School District statement. The exact nature of this threat was not disclosed.

It’s also very hit-or-miss with security screenings. In one case, they had screenings at the start of the game but that was it. So somebody could have left the stadium and come back with a gun.”

It is a sad fact of life that many schools in America have metal detectors at the doors to classroom buildings, but securing a major venue like a football stadium can be a tougher challenge, Neihoff said.

Bulky, airport-style metal detectors can’t be easily moved from a central school door to a football stadium, she said. And there often aren’t enough of these devices to cover multiple entry points at stadiums.

In the upstate New York city of Utica, the public school district this month announced on its official Facebook page that it was beefing up security by only allowing students accompanied by a parent to attend school-sponsored sporting events.

The school district made this move after a security officer was shot in the head and wounded Sept. 9 while trying to break up a fight that broke out in a parking lot outside a Proctor High School football game.

A 16-year-old who does not attend Proctor High has been charged with attempted murder, criminal possession of a weapon and other charges, Utica Police Lt. Mike Curley said.

To keep guns out, school officials banned backpacks and fanny packs from all district athletic events and said there would be “no re-entry and no admittance after halftime” at high school football games.

Also, at Utica high school football games, all fans will file into the stadium through a single entry point where they will be required to pass through a metal detector.

Consider what happened Sept. 1 in Louisiana when 15-year-old Ja’Kobe Queen was fatally shot during halftime of what’s called the Sugar Cane Classic between the Port Allen Pelicans and their archrivals, the Brusly High Panthers.

Police said Queen had walked over to a concession stand to buy a cold drink when shots rang out.

“Although we had extra security at this game, it ended in a tragic incident,” West Baton Rouge schools said in a statement released a day after the shooting.

A 28-year-old woman was also injured in the shooting, the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office said. And an 18-year-old named Jarrettin Jackson II was later arrested in connection with the shooting.

The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees prep sports in the nation’s largest state, said all schools have to file an “emergency action plan.”

What CA is really driving right now is their sportsmanship initiative.  The lack of sportsmanship has gotten out of control at many events, not just in California but all over the U.S. We’re really pushing to get everyone to be on the same page, support each other, be positive and be there for the kids.

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