The Harrisburg Heat announced yesterday that security will be increased at the Baltimore Arena tomorrow night for its game against the Spirit in light of at least two threatening letters indicating some of the Heat players might be in danger at the game.
Heat public relations director Gregg Cook said last night two of the letters were postmarked in Baltimore, Md. He said one of them mentioned more than two players by name.
The letters were apparently in response to an incident in the Nov. 19 Spirit-Heat game at the Arena in which the Spirit's Rob Ukrop suffered a broken jaw after he was struck by the Heat's Denis Hamlett.
Ukrop has been out of action since that game; he returns tomorrow night against the Heat.
Hamlett, who struck Ukrop with his shoulder and then his elbow, was suspended 27 days and fined by National Professional Soccer League commissioner Steve Paxos.
The Spirit's Mike Stankovic was suspended for seven days and fined by Paxos for verbally abusing the referees during the Hamlett-Ukrop incident.
Also fined were the Heat's Franklin McIntosh and Lee Tschantret for standing over the prostrate Ukrop and taunting him, and the Spirit's Tarik Walker for being the first one off the bench in the brawl after the injury. All fines were of undisclosed amounts.
Cook said the letters have been turned over to the Harrisburg office of the FBI, which is investigating in conjunction with the Baltimore FBI office.
"The envelopes and letters have been fingerprinted," said Cook.
Cook said the Heat, the Spirit and the Baltimore Arena are joining forces to check all fans at the turnstiles and have all the players escorted to and from the field of play.
According to Cook, the number of Baltimore City police and security officers normally assigned to a Spirit game will be increased, and the Heat will bring four of its security officers along on its team bus and they will be on duty throughout the game.
Harrisburg owner Rex Herbert said in a news release yesterday: "With some of the recent incidents that have taken place in the sports world, like the Nancy Kerrigan situation, you just never know what could happen. We don't know if the letters are serious. We're not taking any chances."
Cook said the team "preferred not to say the names of the players" who were targeted in one of the letters.
"We didn't tell the players the names," he said. "It's up to the players how they want to handle it, whether they want to take the letters seriously or not."
Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said: "I really have no comment on it. I just want to play soccer. This is a family sport. I'm looking for a great crowd and a great game."
Cook said the Heat wants to publicize the increase in security. "Since we're the target, we just want to ensure the safety of our players and staff. We feel the more this gets out to the media, it might deter someone from doing something stupid."
Heat player Richard Chinapoo said none of his teammates seems too concerned about the threats.
"We just want to play the game and make sure nobody gets hurt," said Chinapoo. "I know I have no enemies and am not worried. For the players, the sport puts bread on the table, and for the fans, it's a form of entertainment. We want to keep it that way."
However, former Baltimore Blast and current Baltimore Bays standout Billy Ronson said last night: "This is sad for soccer. We're trying to boost soccer in this country and something like this happens. It's not a good atmosphere for the game. But maybe it's not just soccer these days, it's the world in general."