No-Nonsense Crowd Control

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.6, August 2006,

Since the well-publicized NBA fracas in Detroit in 2005, crowd control has received more attention than ever. Looking to avoid high school versions of the incident, some administrators are sending a tough new message to their basketball fans: Act responsibly in the stands, or you’re not welcome at our games.

That was the story during a contest in Newport News, Va., between Heritage High School and archrival Warwick High School. When fans began streaming onto the court to join in a shoving match that had broken out between players, Heritage Principal Tim Sweeney got on the gym’s PA system and ordered all 1,200 spectators to leave the building.

“At first I was telling them to return to their seats, but when it was obvious they weren’t listening, I told everyone the game was over and they needed to clear out,” Sweeney recalls. “I told the coaches to take their teams to the locker rooms, and once the players and officials were gone, it took about 20 minutes for everybody else to leave.”

Getting the players off the floor was the key, Sweeney says, since most fans saw no reason to stay when it appeared the game would not continue.

With the gym emptied, athletes and officials returned to play the rest of the game—though not before Sweeney read both teams the riot act. “I said this type of conduct is not tolerated by either school, and that my expectation was for them to play hard but to play with sportsmanship,” he says. “At that point, looking around the empty gym, they really seemed to get the message. Both teams put their hands together in the middle of the court, chanted ‘1-2-3-TEAM,’ and then shook hands with one another. I could see on their faces they were embarrassed about the way they’d acted. The referees then ejected the players who had started the shoving and we finished the game.”

Another no-nonsense approach to fan conduct comes from the Milwaukee Public Schools, where a new game-management policy was implemented after fights broke out in the stands at two games this winter. Superintendent William Andrekopolous set up several new guidelines, which include limiting ticket sales to 75 percent of gym capacity and allowing the purchase of only two tickets per person for each game. At-the-door ticket sales were eliminated completely, and electronic devices such as cell phones and iPods were banned from game sites. Andrekopolous also warned Milwaukeeans that if fighting continued to be a problem, fans would be kept out of the games entirely.

Gary DePerry, Head Boys’ Coach at Bradley Technical High School in Milwaukee, says the new rules succeeded in defusing the charged atmosphere at games. “It really reduced the problems we had with crowd control,” he says. “The whole game experience was different—we stopped playing music during pre-game warmups and at halftime, and with smaller crowds, there wasn’t as much noise in the building. But of course, there was a trade-off, because it also meant we had less fan support during play.”

DePerry says the rules—particularly the limit on ticket sales—have also decreased attendance, one of the main sources of income for Bradley Tech athletics. For this reason, he says, it will be important for administrators and coaches to meet in the off-season to discuss the ramifications of the new policy and consider ways to keep fan behavior in check without harming the bottom line. “For the safety of everyone who attends the games, these rules have been a positive,” he says. “Now it’s up to us to come together and work out the kinks. We’re making it clear that fighting has no place in our buildings and that being a spectator at our games is a privilege. That’s an important message to send.”