In Montgomery, student fights stir up anxiety over safety at games


When Montgomery County Public Schools implemented new safety rules for sporting events last month over student fights, Brian Rabin decided he wouldn’t be comfortable with his middle school daughter going to high school football games.

Ahead of Friday night’s games this week, Rabin said he’s comfortable with his older daughter, the Wootton High School senior, going to the games — especially with more administrators and police officers there, he said.

“It really seemed to start last year when we just saw that after the pandemic, there just seemed to be a lot of challenges in the games where people come together and a lot of passions are high and just people cause trouble,” said Rabin, 51 , who lives in North Potomac.

Just like students Returning to classrooms after about two years of online learning during the pandemic, teachers and school administrators across the country have said they’ve seen a rise in everything from petty misconduct and fights in the hallways to gun violence. There isn’t much national data tracking less serious incidents in schools like fights, but anecdotally these problems have gotten worse.

In Montgomery County, school leaders similarly say there are increasing problems with youth behavior, both inside and outside of school. Fighting at sporting events has also increased. Last year, individual schools in the district began shifting seasons earlier in the day and adding other safety measures to curb fighting.

The harder high school football games get, the harder it is to find umpires

But after a brawl at a football game between Northwest and Gaithersburg high schools in September that resulted in four juveniles and one adult being charged with assault, the school system implemented a statewide game safety plan. The plan is for fans to stay in the stands during games and bars after halftime. The plan also allows schools to take more extreme measures if necessary, e.g. B. Changing game times, closing concession stands and restricting who can play the game. The protocols have received a mixed response from parents.

From the district’s perspective, there’s no common thread fueling these fights — sometimes it’s rivalries between students or interpersonal issues between students who know each other, said Head Boy Chris Cram. “There’s nothing to point to as a system,” he said.

Montgomery County Public Schools have not had any major brawls resembling those that unfolded during the Gaithersburg and Northwest game since the athletic safety plan was created, Cram said.

Other school systems have taken similar steps in enforcing safety rules for sporting events, including North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and some Minnesota school districts, which limit who can attend games and require adults to attend with younger students. In the metro area, a petition has been started in Arlington for that school district to relax its rule enforced this year that limits student attendance at games to those whose teams are playing.

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said that up until this school year he had said incidents of student fighting and violence were more likely during the school day. But there seems to be “a lot more going on at these sporting events,” which has put the likelihood of fights at school and at games on “a poor balance,” he said.

Earlier this week, Walt Whitman High School Principal Robert Dodd emailed parents informing them that Friday’s upcoming game against Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School will be rescheduled to 4:30 p.m. or 7 p.m., depending on the Bethesda-Chevy Chase football schedule.

At Whitman’s last football game, most recently against Wootton High School On Friday, a group of about a dozen students – neither from Whitman nor from Wootton – were “disruptive, abusive and refusing to follow orders from school administrators and police,” according to another email from Dodd. There were verbal threats and two students were arrested.

Back to school brought guns, fought and played

Arvin Kim, a Whitman senior and a student member of the Montgomery County School Board, said fights are common at sporting events — especially football games. Whitman and Bethesda-Chevy Chase are considered rival schools, Kim said, which has led to some post-game violence among students in recent years.

Earlier this week, Bethesda-Chevy Chase’s school newspaper, the Tattler, reported that there was fighting around the school grounds — including at the Bethesda Metro station stop — after the school played Walter Johnson High School on Oct. 7.

“Of course, whenever these things erupt, it stirs up fear and disrupts these community events,” said Kim, 17. He added that it’s concerning because the Games should be a place for students to gather and build community.

David Griffith, a parent of a Poolesville High School junior who plays basketball and baseball, said he wasn’t nervous about his son attending any high school games. Poolesville has not experienced the struggles that have hit other schools after returning to in-person learning, he said. But he was surprised when Montgomery County school leaders said there had been other incidents outside of the Northwest brawl and Gaithersburg that led to the statewide sports safety plan.

“I thought, ‘Where else does this happen? Which schools?’ ‘ Griffith, 55, said. “We didn’t have any problems in Poolesville, but we travel to other schools as well. Do we need to know anything? That’s one of my frustrations.”

Griffith pointed to a brawl between Churchill High School and Blake High School during a senior year basketball game and said he wasn’t sure how many parents knew about it. He wouldn’t have known if his kids hadn’t told him. He said school officials should tell parents more about these incidents.

Montgomery adds safety rules for school sporting events after football fights

Mia Soykan, a senior at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said the problems more often occur off campus before or after games between schools playing each other, but that these incidents don’t get as much attention. Students often hear about these incidents through word of mouth, she said.

Overall, games at Quince Orchard — whose football team won the state championship in 2021 — have been relatively quiet because athletics is an integral part of the school’s culture, she said. However, there were a few minor incidents.

A few weeks ago, when the soccer team was playing Seneca Valley High School, a student threw a smoke bomb into the student ward, she said. Soykan wasn’t at the game but heard from her friends who went that the experience was overwhelming. School administrators have threatened to ban students from attending soccer games until a student comes forward, she said.

Soykan, who is a member of the high school girls’ soccer team, said she feels safe playing against other teams and going to those games, but that sometimes she feels “doubtful” about going to soccer games. Quince Orchard’s football student body is often tightly packed and the crowd can be overwhelming at times due to the lack of personal space. But there are also things like the smoke bomb incident that can be worrying, she said.

“It’s supposed to be crowded and fun,” said Soykan, 18, “but sometimes I get a little worried when people jostle in the stands — that happens a lot.”

Quince Orchard is scheduled to take on his rival, Northwest High School, on Friday. Soykan said these games are usually the most fun, but she wasn’t sure how safe the environment would be. Northwest recently lost their coach after the Gaithersburg brawl and it was expected that tensions would be high due to the school rivalry.

“This one’s definitely one that kind of has to wait and see,” she said.