One of the first high school football games I covered as an embryonic sportswriter — no, the players were not wearing leather helmets — shaped up as a doozy. Amador Valley and Dublin, from neighboring cities and both undefeated, were playing for the league championship.
The game lived up to its billing. Late in the fourth quarter with Dublin leading, Amador embarked on a last-ditch drive. It came down to a fourth down play deep in Dublin territory. The Amador quarterback scrambled left and dove out of bounds at the first-down marker. The officials’ decision to mark the ball short of a first down sealed the game and sparked a brawl involving players, fans, parents, maybe even the mayors.
“I think three straight years the (Amador-Dublin) game ended in a fight,” Matt Sweeney, former Amador player and current Foothill High coach, told pleasantonweekly.com in 2016.
We revisit 1978 not merely to marvel at the disco wear, but to apply historical perspective to current events:
On Sept. 30 a high school football game between Kennedy-Richmond and El Cerrito was halted late in the first half because of fights occurring outside the football stadium at El Cerrito High. The game was ruled no contest.
On Oct. 6 a game between visiting Skyline and Oakland Tech was stopped late in the first half due to fighting in the stands and outside the stadium. That, too, was later ruled no contest.
Also on Oct. 6 it was decided to move the Tennyson-Berkeley game from Friday night to Saturday afternoon based in part on threatening social media posts. No spectators were allowed to attend.
So what’s the deal here? Is violence at high school football games something old? Something new? Something to be concerned about?
“I’ve been a part of one (fight),” said Michael Peters, for 26 years the head coach of the McClymonds High football team. “We brawled with Skyline, over 10 years ago, the players.”
Players will be players, right? McClymonds-Skyline back in the day. Amador Valley-Dublin back in the century. In the past month, high school football brawls between players have occurred in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Tampa. They make news because they are relatively rare.
Here’s what Peters thinks is different: “To be honest, everything is social media,” he said. “The kids, they like to talk smack. Some people take it out of context. I hate it. I really do. We didn’t have those problems back in the day. Today they’ve got Instagram, put the little threats out there. Some coaches and kids don’t know the difference between fun and games (and threats).”
That’s a game-changer, in life as well as high school football. One click can reach hundreds, maybe thousands, inflaming tensions among players and fans alike.
Lately, Peters said, “It’s the fans. There has to be more control in the stands. I don’t really know about El Cerrito and Kennedy or Berkeley and Tennyson. But I know with the one in Oakland had crowd involvement. There needs to be a little more security there.”
Peters said five to six security officers and three or four school police officers are present at McClymonds home games, adding, “That’s not enough.”
You aren’t going to want to hear this, but it never is — at any level. Let’s take another trip back in time. After the Cal-Stanford football game in 1997, scores of fans of both teams rushed the field, creating a scary situation bordering on anarchy. The two schools had worked together beforehand on a comprehensive security plan. Approximately 100 security personnel worked the event. Yet the chief of Stanford Police Services later admitted:
“If (fans) want to take the field, they’re taking the field.” That’s rare, too, by the way.
What to do? The same thing they’ve been doing since the first sports entrepreneur sold the first ticket to the first fan: Hope for the best and plan for the worst.
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