Our view: Zero tolerance or zero attendance?

August 30, 2012 10:08:36 AM



Columbus Municipal School District officials released a series of "zero tolerance'' rules concerning fan behavior this week in response to some altercations that occurred during Columbus High's Aug. 17 home game against Aberdeen. 


There are any number of words to describe these rules -- misguided, reactionary, unenforceable, ill-conceived, self-defeating. 


When you consider the rules adopted by the school district -- they range from draconian (spectators are not permitted to leave the stands during the game) to unenforceable (students who have been suspended from school or attend CMSD Alternative School cannot attend) -- you might assume that the Aug. 17 game deteriorated into a near-riot. Drastic times call for drastic measures, as the saying goes. 


But, if the Columbus Police Department's account of what happened that evening are any indication, there is nothing to suggest the situation ever bordered on chaos. 


Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen characterized the incidents during the game as "a couple of skirmishes, two or three different little ruckuses." 


He said several girls were caught pushing and shoving, and two juveniles were arrested for misdemeanors, though he didn't know their charges. CPD, along with other security personnel, regularly staff the games. 


Last week, McQueen met with Columbus Municipal School Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell and school staff, and they walked around Falcon Stadium, brainstorming ways to improve safety, from increased lighting at the bathrooms, concession stands and entrance gates to better ways for security officers to monitor the crowd.  


Some of the rules that emerged are entirely reasonable and practical, including improved lighting around the stadium, assigning security staff specific areas to monitor, a "pay to re-enter" policy to cut down on loitering in the parking lot during games and tossing any who are causing trouble out of the stadium.  


These are the sorts of rules you would have expected to have been implemented long ago. 


Some of the other rules defy reason, however, including the one that dictates that "fans will be required to remain in the stands and not (be) allowed 'free wandering' around the complex." 


The rules that ban certain students from attending games seems virtually impossible to enforce unless ticket-takers have some sort of sixth sense to identify those students who are under the ban. 


The ban on "free wandering" is particularly perplexing, and it makes you wonder if the people who made these rules have forgotten what high school football is all about. 


It is about the game and the band and the cheerleaders, of course. But it's also about little kids playing their own football game with a wadded wax cup under the bleachers. It's about high school girls lingering outside the bleachers, giggling and flirting and looking to see what outfits the other girls are wearing. It's about high-school boys strutting around, hoping to catch the eye of the prettiest girls. It is a social gathering.  


Since "23 Skidoo," it's what young people do. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. 


Telling a fan that he can't leave the bleachers to go to the concession stand or restroom is a difficult matter, too. Is security planning to escort folks to and from the restrooms? It's a silly notion. 


You might be inclined to think that these new rules are simply a means of conveying a stern warning to fans, without any intention of trying to enforce them. But when the district refers to the rules as part of a "zero tolerance" approach, you must take them at their word that they intend to strictly enforce the rules. The approach is both heavy-handed and impractical.  


Instead, school district officials should have made a practical assessment of the situation. Is there adequate security at the games? Did the security personnel respond to the incidents promptly and properly? Answer these questions and you have gone a long way to solving the problem without imposing new rules that are difficult to enforce and undermine your objectives. 


In the weeks leading up to the season, we applauded the school district's efforts to encourage people to come to the games and support the Falcons. Now, the district seems intent on discouraging attendance. 


The new rules create more problems than they solve.