Prior to a high school athletic event, it is not unusual for a message to be played over the PA system with intentions of reaching spectators, coaches, and, of course, the student-athletes preparing to compete.
The message? Sportsmanship. But it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening.
Within the first two weeks of the prep football season, sportsmanship – along with common sense – has been noticeably absent, as reports of three shootings at games around the country surfaced two weeks ago, resulting in two deaths and three injuries.
My hometown of Freeport, Illinois, was recently shaken by this troubling trend, as a season-opening contest at Rockford Auburn was abruptly ended late in the fourth quarter after gunfire sliced through the air just outside of Wyeth Stadium on Aug. 24.
Photos expertly captured by the Rockford Register Star’s Arturo Fernandez illustrated the downright fear shared by everyone in the stadium, as many bolted for the exits while others (including players on both teams) hit the ground face down for cover.
Reminder: This is at a high school football game. You know, events that should be forever remembered for the goofy outfits worn with friends in the student section and not the post-traumatic stress that comes from lying flat on the pavement as an active shooter roams the area.
Luckily, no one in attendance was seriously hurt, but the ensuing chaos was dangerous, as Big Radio Sports Director and play-by-play announcer Don Werntz described as people "dropping like dominoes" and "flooding towards the exits."
At Clinton High School last Friday, the matchup between the River Kings and Davenport West ended prematurely after an on-field altercation between the teams resulted in Falcons coach Justin Peters pulling the visitors from the sidelines and into the locker room.
To make matters even worse, it wasn’t just the 16 and 17-year-old student-athletes participating in the nonsense. There was even a squabble in the press box between a Davenport West coordinator and a CHS volunteer. Sigh.
Members of the Clinton football team were later ushered into their locker room under the protection of law enforcement, who deflected jeers aimed at the River Kings from the opposing fan section.
It was a sad, but surreal scene that perfectly captured the sinking climate of high school sports. Police officers shepherding Clinton athletes into the building two at a time. Kids frantically filing for the exits at Rockford Auburn. What’s next?
I’m not sure I want to know. But here’s to hoping high school athletic events return to the pureness that lures people to amateur sports.
Let’s do better.