Security should be top priority for sports events

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 17, 2002

For openers, Lawrence County High School works hard to run afirst-class athletic program. Team sportsmanship is important toLCHS administrators and coaches, both on and off the playingfield.

Emotions often run high during athletic events. Throw in somerivalry and the temperature naturally rises a few more degrees.Brookhaven versus Lawrence County is a keen rivalry, oftenfeaturing cousin versus cousin and neighbor versus neighbor.

Last Friday night the Brookhaven varsity basketball teamsvisited Monticello for a return date. Brookhaven swept the Cougarsin the varsity contests and the Panthers dominated by a 25-pointfinal margin. There was no double-overtime, nail-biter towitness.

For obvious reasons, the crowd in the LCHS gymnasium was quieterthan usual and departed earlier than usual. The players werewell-behaved and there was less than the average amount of trashtalking.

After the boys game, as the BHS players began filling the outerlobby for the short walk to the bus. BHS head boys coach DanPresley paused for a few minutes outside the dressing room, talkedto the media and visited with some fans.

To say the least, the mood was pleasant. The scene would changeabruptly when Presley and his players began making their way towardthe school bus. Outside the gym, in the darkened parking lot, agroup of Lawrence County fans were gathered.

According to Presley, the group surrounded the BHS team. “Theystood shoulder to shoulder and wouldn’t let us get through to thebus.”

Presley told the group to move out of the way but they wouldn’tbudge. You can imagine the remarks that were exchanged between theplayers and the fans.

“It scared me,” Presley admitted. Two of his players, FredMackabee and Dexter Middleton, were surrounded by a group.

Presley ordered his players back to the front lobby of the gymand informed LCHS principal Dr. L.C. Firle about the situation.Firle entered the parking lot and told the group to disperse. Theydidn’t.

Firle called for support from law enforcement officials and theyresponded. The crowd began to dissolve.

Presley said he recognized some of the group as being formerLCHS players. Obviously, a belligerent group was attempting tointimidate the visitors from Lincoln County.

Presley met with BHS athletic director Andrew Hickman on Mondayand an official letter reporting the incident was filed with theMississippi High School Activities Association.

Was that over-reaction?

No. Some LCHS administrators have a different opinion.

LCHS athletic director Tony Davis said the incident was anon-incident. There was no physical abuse. No punches werethrown.

“I wish it had not happened,” said Davis. “I know Coach Presleywas upset. I think somebody said something to Coach Presley andthey shouldn’t have.”

Davis said he sincerely regretted the incident. “I am veryapologetic for what happened. I don’t think there was any group outthere wanting to accost them.”

For the record, the MHSAA requires the host school for athleticevents to provide adequate security for the game officials, thevisiting fans and teams. In most cases, at least one uniformed lawenforcement officer is visible during the game.

Davis said there were four school administrators present Fridaynight plus one security officer. A state trooper wearing a uniformwas in the crowd. That should have been adequate security.

Yours truly was interviewing LCHS boys coach Bobby Lee after thegame when assistant girls coach Lisa Evans shared the news aboutthe parking lot incident. Lee immediately went to see if any of hisplayers were involved. Lee is a strict disciplinarian and he won’ttolerate nonsense.

Davis said that in the future, all visiting teams will beadvised to take the side entrance to their bus, rather than exitingthrough the front lobby and negotiating the parking lot.

The MHSAA contacted LCHS officials on Wednesday and said itwould have some recommendations for future home games. According toDavis, school security is one of the costliest expenses in theathletic department.

“Security costs hundreds of dollars,” said Davis. “We haven’thad any incidents.”

If you follow BHS athletics, at least one and usually two policeofficers are present at all home basketball games. WhenBrookhaven’s football team goes on the road, a city police carprovides a blue light escort.

Attend basketball games in Lincoln County, and you will see atleast one constable or sheriff’s deputy on the scene. That presenceprovides security for the gate receipts as well as for thereferees, players and fans.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.