By Stefanie Jackson – The Accomack school board might have to decide to switch off the Friday night lights for good.
“My concern is for the violence that is happening after our school football games in the parking lots, on the field, spilling over into the Food Lion and Sonic parking lot,” a parent of two Arcadia High School students told the school board Tuesday night.
Colin Redmond, of Oak Hall, has two other children who attend or have graduated from Accomack public schools. He is also the president of the Phoenix Fire Cheer squad.
“I deal with athlete safety and regulations on a daily basis,” so knowing there are dangerous situations on the school’s athletic field “hits close to home,” he said.
On two occasions, both on Friday nights when Arcadia High School hosted football games, police officers had to separate students fighting and disperse the crowd gathered around to watch.
“I am asking you, members of the school board, to take action and come up with a plan to help prevent any future violence occurring at these games, for the safety of the players on the field, the cheerleaders, the band members, parents, and staff attending these games,” Redmond said.
“Please take action. Please stand up for their rights for safer after-school events,” he said.
Redmond also asked the school board to imagine how embarrassing it would be if a college sports recruiter attended a Friday night football game, saw students in a “barroom brawl,” and never returned.
“Now you’re talking about our children’s future, not just their safety,” he said.
“Friday’s events weren’t random, they were planned,” Redmond added. His own children informed him that students knew the fight was going to happen and were waiting to watch and videotape the incident. There were even rumors of possible gun violence.
“At this time, they were using fists. Next time it could be guns,” Redmond said. “Please don’t wait to take action when it’s too late.”
School board chairman Paul Bull said he had heard about the incident and talked about it with Superintendent Chris Holland.
Bull noted that the school board cannot control incidents that occur beyond school grounds.
Redmond said parents have suggested having football games on Saturdays instead of Friday nights, and school board members immediately agreed with that as a possible solution.
Parents also have suggested prohibiting anyone under age 21 from entering school property during football games. That suggestion did not appear to grab the attention of the school board.
“It’s a privilege to attend these games after school, not a right,” and often students don’t watch the games, they use the athletic field as a “hangout,” Redmond said.
Parents who commented about the incident on the Phoenix Fire Cheer squad’s Facebook page called for the suspension of all students involved in the fight, including students visiting from other schools.
“They should be suspended, simple as that,” Crystal Simpson said. Arcadia High School Principal Shaun O’Shea “said it pretty clear in the freshman orientation that fighting will not be tolerated in or on the school premises.”
School board member Gary Reese said the school’s administration had security measures in place at the football game and he did not expect everything to “fall apart in the parking lot.”
Holland said he has talked to Arcadia High School administration, and additional steps will be taken in the future to prevent trespassing on school property by parents, coaches, or students from other counties.
School board member Ronnie Holden added that the Accomack sheriff’s department should be involved in any plans to increase school security.
He said the “worst case scenario” solution will be scheduling football games on Saturdays.
“We cannot afford to let some child be injured beyond where it ends up in a death.”