Keeping Rivalry Games in Hand

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.4, April 2005,

They're the games everyone looks for on the schedule first-the ones that drive players during off-season workouts. When kept in perspective, rivalry games can generate great excitement for teams and fans alike. When they grow too big, though, the same games can lead to mayhem while overshadowing the rest of the season.

In Indianapolis, Warren Central High School has used detailed planning, and some help from its "Dads" to help keep its annual meeting with cross-town rival Ben Davis High School under control. Tickets for the matchup are limited to 9,000, the number of seats in Warren Central Stadium, which helps security personnel keep an eye on the crowd.

In addition to police officers and faculty members, Warren Central has about 30 members of the Warren Dads on duty for the Ben Davis game. The Warren Dads are a group of almost 100 adult males that have a connection to Warren Central, whether as a father, grandfather, or any other school link. They provide added security at events like the rival game as well as many school functions and events, including those that their children may not be involved in.

"We actually had an aerial photo taken of the stadium and the school, and the administrating team and the officers in charge of security have copies," says Warren Central Athletic Director Doug Seagrave. "We talk about specific assignments for each officer, administrator, and Warren Dad volunteer. We really have it mapped out very well before the first fan even gets in the gate."

On arriving at the stadium, fans are directed to separate parking lots, enter through separate gates, and are sent to opposite sides of the field. Seagrave says this prevents most opposing-fan interaction. Plus, Warren Central's stadium was renovated several years ago, leaving an old press box on the visitor's side, which can be used as a security base.

"We give a walkie-talkie or radio to an administrator from Ben Davis," says Seagrave, "who sits in that press box and can really look over his crowd. This way he can hear everything we're saying and can also chime in if something's up and he needs to get a hold of us."

Seagrave says communication is really the beginning of preparing for a rival event like the Ben Davis game. "You certainly can't stop everything," says Seagrave. "There's always something new that pops up. But so much can be eliminated just by some communication between the principals and the athletic directors of the two schools."

Warren Central administrators meet every Monday to discuss upcoming events, and Seagrave is in constant contact with Ben Davis Athletic Director Kevin Britt as the game approaches. "We try to treat all games the same from a starting vantage point," Seagrave says, "then make whatever accommodations need to be made for a larger crowd."

Some of the measures added for the Ben Davis game have become standard protocol for all home games, including the separate parking lots. In addition, a police officer and volunteer team supervisor are placed in the parking lot to escort the visiting team to the locker room. It all serves one goal: To make what happens off the field as minimal a distraction for the players as possible.

This is similar to the task shared by Warren Central Head Coach Kevin Wright. "The thing that you guard against and the thing that you learn is to make sure you keep the game in perspective," Wright says. "You can almost make the game too big. Our approach as a coaching staff is to not blow it out of proportion, so that our kids understand it's just another game."

Wright says he quickly learned there's no need to build up a rivalry to his team. "That's going to take care of itself," says Wright. "They're a lot more attentive on that Monday and they're ready for business. As silly as it sounds, the challenge for both teams is that we've got to keep our kids up mentally for the semifinal and state championship still to come."