Tough call on security, but rationale faultless

On High Schools

High Schools

November 04, 2005|By MILTON KENT

There won't be an incumbent running for Anne Arundel County executive in next November's elections, but Roy Skiles figures this would not be a great week to announce his candidacy, if he were so inclined.

Skiles is the county's assistant superintendent of school administrative services and the point man on the decision to push up start times on county football games for the rest of the season.

Skiles' phone has been ringing all week, and most of the callers have not been inviting him to tea, but rather criticizing him for what they believe is an overreaction to last Friday's shooting at a game at Annapolis High.

"I've tried to call everyone back who called," Skiles said yesterday. "My ears have been burning."

Starting tonight and for the rest of the season, Friday night football games in Anne Arundel will kick off at 5:15 p.m., not 7:15 p.m. In addition, fans will not be allowed to purchase a ticket after halftime and won't be permitted to re-enter the stadium once they've left.

The policy may seem harsh, and Skiles is sensitive to parents who have complained that the start time, which comes in the middle of rush hour, may keep them from seeing their kids play or lead cheers, but the primary concern has to be about keeping the stadiums safe.

"There's an awful lot of good that's associated with high school football and we don't want to interfere in that," Skiles said. "But, at some point, security becomes really important."

We ask a lot of our educators - up to and including making sure test scores are going up, that the buses arrive on time and that politicians and parents are happy. What we don't ask is for them to worry about whether knuckleheads are bringing firearms to sporting events.

But, like it or not, times are admittedly different in and around high schools than in our day, when the closest a gun got to our school was on Career Day, when a police officer would come to extol the virtues of being overworked and underpaid all in the name of protecting the public.

Now, many students walk through metal detectors every day just to jostle with 30 or 40 of their classmates so they can sit at dilapidated desks and read outdated textbooks.

So, during the one time in a school week when they can relax and enjoy the school experience without pressure, they have to wonder whether the kid next to them is packing heat, even if he's just showing off.

That appears to have been the case last Friday when a Glen Burnie youth apparently accidentally fired a handgun he brought to the Annapolis-Old Mill game, with the shot striking a 17-year-old girl.

It's everyone's fault that things have gotten to this point, and no one's fault. Our culture has de-evolved and, as a result, respect for life and the other person's safety have become casualties.

But changing all of that probably comes at the expense of personal liberties, and who's willing to trade those away just to feel safer at a high school football game?

Skiles said the shooting last week was just the final straw for the 12 county high school principals, who have had a series of discussions about the problem with security at football games.

"It wasn't a singular event that led to this. There have been several minor incidents this year that have concerned our principals," he said.

Skiles said principals have found that most of the troublemakers are individuals who are not parents, who come to games not to watch them, but to cause trouble. And while there may be legitimate reasons for a person to go back to the car for an item left behind, Skiles said many who do leave are going to consume alcohol.

To ensure that adults who have children who are playing or cheering or are in the band, Skiles said athletic directors have been asked, where possible, to ask late-arriving parents to show identification and sign in.

And, for the remainder of the season, the school system will hire off-duty policemen to help patrol and monitor - in some cases, tripling their presence at games.

Down the road, Skiles said, "serious discussions" about security at stadiums will be held. He wouldn't specify what that might entail, but it might take a bit longer to get into a football game next year, if you get the drift.

This may all seem like overprotectiveness, especially compared with Montgomery County, where a student was stabbed to death in a parking lot after a football game in September.

Officials at Montgomery school headquarters called their principals at the 25 county high schools and asked them if they felt that security procedures needed to be drastically changed or if they wanted to change the start times of any sporting events.

Save for two games, the Montgomery principals, who are part of a system far larger than Anne Arundel's, said that what had happened there was a horrible, tragic occurrence, but there was no reason to overturn what had been working before, and what has worked since.

Maybe we'll get back to that day soon in Anne Arundel, and Roy Skiles' phone won't ring so much.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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