Shore teams to play before empty seats

Spectators barred because of gunfire at basketball games

January 23, 1999|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE -- The next time Queen Anne's and Kent County's high schools meet on a basketball court, the only sounds will be the squeak of shoes on the hardwood floor and referees' whistles.

No cheerleaders, no classmates, no spectators. Just two varsity boys' teams in an otherwise empty gym.

At the two rural schools, where pickup trucks line student parking lots and Future Farmers of America chapters are among the most popular clubs, a longtime basketball rivalry has been marred by gunfire twice in the past year.

In February 1998, a Queen Anne's teen-ager was arrested for firing half a dozen shots into the air as students from both schools cruised the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Chestertown after a basketball game.

The most recent scare came a week before Christmas, when someone fired a shot into the ceiling of the crowded lobby at Queen Anne's High as 150 to 200 spectators were leaving. Police dug a .25-caliber slug out of the ceiling and found two shell casings in the parking lot.

No one was injured in either incident, but students, parents and school administrators are worried.

"It's bad for our school," said Lauren DiBiaso, a Kent County High cheerleader who said there's little point in her squad's attending the Feb. 13 game at her school in rural Worton. "You wouldn't think that something like this could happen in Kent County."

Queen Anne's County sheriff's investigators have made no arrest in the December incident, but they continue to interview suspects and receive calls on an anonymous phone tip line.

Police and school officials said they believe few, if any, current students were involved. Instead, they said, the heated atmosphere of basketball games has provided a backdrop for groups of young men from rural northern Queen Anne's County and Chestertown in Kent County.

"It's like two different posses, two groups of guys who hang out together, and they're feuding for some reason," said Sgt. John Braham, who heads the criminal division of the Queen Anne's sheriff's department. "This could very well be the aftermath of earlier incidents. We just don't want it to turn into something more serious."

Queen Anne's High Principal Bill Darling, who broke up an altercation in the stands minutes before shots were fired, is convinced that no students were involved.

"The word we're getting was that there was some sort of incident earlier between these two groups," Darling said. "Our basketball game was just a good excuse."

Two county deputies who were providing security at the Dec. 18 game reported hearing two shots as the crowd left after the game, investigators said.

"We've heard that there could have been two guns, but that's hearsay at this stage," said Detective Bryan Isaac. "It looks as if somebody wanted to scare somebody or just show off. I would not call them gangs; that's too strong a term. It's really just some sort of neighborhood or local rivalry."

Kent County officials said they had little choice but to prohibit spectators at the two schools' next game, even if arrests are made.

"We felt it would help defuse the situation in the short term," said Lorraine A. Costella, Kent County school superintendent. "The issue is not our students, but we felt it was necessary."

School administrators in Kent and Queen Anne's counties said that in addition to paying for more off-duty police officers to provide security, they have begun checking photo identification cards -- school cards or driver's licenses -- of spectators at all sports events, and referring to school "trespass lists" of students or former students who have commited infractions and are not allowed at school functions.

Jaime Eisenhart, a field hockey player for Queen Anne's High, and other students said they never expected such an issue to arise.

"Yes, we have a big rivalry in just about any sport," said the senior from Stevensville. "But it's really sad if people are going to this extreme. It shouldn't come to this."

Pub Date: 1/23/99

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