School officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, announced stronger security measures for the school system’s athletic events after a brawl last weekend ended a football game early and resulted in charges against five people.
The new security measures include limiting student spectators to students of the schools competing and requiring spectators to remain in their seats in the stands during games. They go into effect this Friday and will last at least through the end of the football season, officials said, and perhaps longer.
“This school district is committed to the safety and security of students, families, and community members who want to go out and enjoy these athletic events, but we will not tolerate any sort of indefensible or violent behaviors,” Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight told reporters during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The athletic security plan has three phases. Starting Friday, the immediate security measures include:
- Student spectators will be limited to those students from the participating schools. Students will be asked to show student ID or their class schedules. School-age children from other schools can only attend if accompanied by an adult chaperone.
- Students and spectators will be required to sit in the stands during the course of the game, and gatherings at halftime and after games will be limited.
- Students and spectators who leave the game will be prohibited from re-entering; also, no spectators will be admitted after halftime.
- No backpacks are allowed.
- “Inappropriate and unruly behavior” at athletic events could result in being suspended from other MCPS athletic events.
- Only athletes, coaches, game officials and credentialed media will be permitted on the sidelines at games.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to go any further,” said Jeffrey Sullivan, director of systemwide athletics, but if necessary, they will, he added.
Under the second phase of the security plan, the school system could further limit spectators and restrict access to students from the participating schools, and move games to the afternoon hours to provide more daylight.
Under the third phase, which Sullivan called “extreme measures,” school officials could close concession stands and limit spectators to families of participants — or ban all spectators altogether.
Sullivan said if any of those additional actions are necessary, school officials will consider a number of factors, including the anticipated spectator attendance, historic rivalries between schools and whether past incidents have happened at schools either this year or in past years. Officials will also take into account facility layouts, including spectator seating and the layout of parking lots.
Member of teams that engage in brawls or other severe inappropriate behavior could be suspended for multiple games or excluded from post-season competition, Sullivan said.
During the news conference, school officials did not discuss specifics of what led to the brawl Friday during the game between Gaithersburg High School and Northwest High School. The football programs at both schools have been suspended; officials didn’t have any updates on their status.
McKnight acknowledged the fight began on the field, but said the school is still investigating and declined to discuss the role of coaches and players in the fight.
Gaithersburg police have said five people were arrested and charged following the brawl — four juveniles and one adult.
Maryland electronic court records show that Northwest Coach Travis Hawkins has been accused of assault — and the same court record indicates the person who made the complaint was William Gant, the athletic director for Gaithersburg High School. WTOP reached out to the schools for confirmation; school officials have declined to comment.
MCPS spokesman Chris Cram told WTOP that criminal matters are questions for the police, and that personnel matters “are under investigation and cannot be commented on.”
School officials said there have been instances of disruption and unruly behavior at a couple of games each week so far this school year. “They’re not to this magnitude,” Sullivan said, referring to the Gaithersburg brawl, “but one incident is too many.”
The fights were captured on cellphone videos and shared on social media.
“What we’ve witnessed in the social media is not who we are in Montgomery County,” Board of Education President Brenda Wolff said at the news conference. “We just aren’t the people that you saw on the news. The behavior of a few bad apples, must not be what people understand about MCPS.”
WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.