A nationwide spate of gun violence around high school sporting events has some local school districts looking more closely at how to keep everyone safe at games.
In recent weeks, high school and youth football games have been marred by nearby gun violence in far-reaching places like Middletown, Delaware; Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Bogalusa, Louisiana; and Ontario, California. And on Friday, September 30, three people were shot and wounded in the parking lot outside of a Newburgh Free Academy varsity football game.
Newburgh, traditionally one of Kingston High School’s principal rivals, is much closer to home, the opposing fields being less than 40 miles apart. And on Saturday, October 15 the Kingston Tigers traveled to Newburgh for the 117th gridiron battle between the two teams since 1915. Kingston lost that game 55-12, with the Goldbacks now holding a 60-52-5 overall advantage.
That the game happened at all was not guaranteed, with Newburgh putting a brief pause on all sporting events while they reviewed their security protocols.
“We recognize that this decision may be comforting for some and frustrating for others in light of the incident that took place last week,” read an early October notice on the Newburgh Enlarged City School District website. “Our focus is to ensure that our athletes and their families have every opportunity to participate in all regular season competitions to avoid disruption to their season.”
The game went forward after having been moved from an evening kickoff on Friday, October 14 to the following afternoon, with just 1,000 fans — one-third of the stadium capacity — allowed in.
“Kingston school officials have worked closely with the NFA security team this week to review and modify safety plans,” read a Kingston City School District (KCSD) social media post last week. “In addition to the game being moved to afternoon hours, enhanced security will be in place throughout the premises and there will be a designated parking area for Kingston fans attending the game.”
KCSD Superintendent Paul Padalino last week said that the district began tightening its security protocols a year ago following a stabbing death in the stands at a varsity football game at Arlington High School in Dutchess County. That same night, there were fights in the stands at Dietz Stadium during a Kingston High School football game.
“We started reevaluating the positioning of our people, how many people we had, and further collaborating with local law enforcement,” Padalino said. “We took a more active role, eliminated people bringing in bags, and we have (handheld metal detecting) wands. And we have separate entrances for visiting and home teams.”
Padalino said issues nationwide have happened more frequently outside of stadiums or gymnasiums.
“We’re putting a real focus on the parking lots,” he said. “We generally feel confident about controlling what happens inside the perimeter of the stadium, but when that’s over and you have between 2000 to 4000 people filtering out onto Washington Avenue and the surrounding areas, that kind of stretches our capacity. And that’s where the help of local law enforcement is really big.”
Padalino said that the Tigers’ varsity football Homecoming Game — a 20-0 victory over FDR on Friday, September 30 — passed without incident.
“We had eight KPD (Kingston Police Department) officers there with us,” Padalino said. “It’s about establishing a presence and setting some new rules, particularly where we have issues with the younger kids, kids who aren’t necessarily in high school yet.”
Greg Warren is the New Paltz Central School District’s director of health, physical education and athletics, and last week he said it was important to not portray Newburgh as the problem.
“Everyone in the high school athletic community knows that what happened in Newburgh is not a reflection of their athletic program or student athletes,” Warren said. “Their athletes, coaches and administrators deserve our support.”
Like Kingston, Warren said the NPCSD and local law enforcement collaborate to keep sporting events safe.
“Our staff here in New Paltz works closely with our police department in supervising athletic events and in maintaining as safe an environment as possible for our students, coaches, staff, and fans. Chief Rob Lucchesi serves on the District’s Safety Committee. We have an open line of communication and confer as needed.
Warren has been trained in contest management planning and athletic event emergency management through the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, and he’s brought those lessons to New Paltz. “We know that the times require vigilance,” he said.
Back in Kingston, Padalino said that security is taken seriously at all athletic events, though they base their approach in likely attendance. The superintendent added that the allure of “Friday Night Lights” — football in America — has lost some of its luster.
“If I could, I’d saw those lights down myself and play on Saturday afternoons,” he said. “But on Friday nights, people want to go to Dietz Stadium, or to (Kate Walton Field House) for a basketball game, which draws pretty big crowds. So while we have people at all our games, baseball, football, basketball, they tend to draw the largest numbers of people, so we put most of our resources that way.”
Hudson Valley One reached out to superintendents and athletic directors in all local school districts for this story.