In wake of brawl, some fans welcome for Rich Central-Rich South game after all
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org October 10, 2013 4:46PM
A parent talks to Rich Township High School District 227 officials Thursday about the security plan for Saturday's football game between Rich South and Rich Central high schools. Students from the two schools were involved in a brawl last month. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2013 6:27AM
Reversing field like a star running back, Rich Township High School District 227 officials on Thursday decided that football players from Rich South and Rich Central deserve better than to play in an empty stadium when they meet Saturday in Olympia Fields.
Two hours after school officials said all spectators would be banned from the varsity football game in the wake of a recent brawl involving students from the rival schools, officials decided otherwise. The game is to take place at 2 p.m. at Rich Central, 3600 W. 203rd St., and District 227 students and their families will be allowed to attend. Students are “strongly encouraged” to be accompanied by an adult, district spokesman Eric Hampton said Friday.
For Thursday’s lower-level games, however, only adults related to players on the teams were to be allowed in, district officials said. The sophomore teams met at Central, while the freshman squads were meeting at Rich South.
District officials said the decision to allow spectators Saturday was a victory for the community.
“This is a way to say to the media and to the world, ‘We have successes, we can come together, we can celebrate and enjoy the community and our children,’ ” Supt. Doris Langon said.
District officials met with parents at about 2 p.m. Thursday at the district administrative center to discuss the security plans for Saturday’s game in light of a brawl Sept. 30 at Rich South that led to criminal charges being filed against 16 students.
The meeting was held after an automated call to all district parents at about noon Thursday, announcing plans to restrict attendance for Saturday’s game to players, coaches and referees only.
Olympia Fields Police Chief John Krull said the decision to allow students and parents at the varsity game was made because “the community has gone through enough.”
Langon said the school board initially made the decision to ban spectators because the South and Central principals had been warned that weapons would be brought to the game.
“I acted on a fear response,” Langon said. “What if there’s a weapon, what if someone is shot, how will that play out?”
But Langon said keeping spectators from the game would be a “PR nightmare” and unfair to parents and students.
To show support and unity, the players on the Central and South teams, as well as their parents and coaches, will meet at the 50-yard line and say a prayer together before the start of the game, district officials said.
A parent who declined to give his name promised district officials that 25 fathers will be in attendance, keeping watch and wearing special shirts. District officials also said that extra security and teachers would be on hand.
There won’t be metal detectors at the gates, however.
“I don’t want it looking like a police state,” Krull said. “(Metal-detecting) wands are used when necessary.”
As has been custom for the past two years, students on the suspension list or with a grade-point average lower than 2.0 will not be allowed to attend.
The fight broke out Sept. 30 at Rich South after Rich Central students were bused to the school following a bomb threat at Central earlier in the day. Once the students arrived, students were taken out of the building because of a fire alarm, and the fighting began.
Ten students were charged with mob action, a felony. Of those, only Crystal Gholson, 17, of Country Club Hills, was charged as an adult, police said. Two Rich Central boys, ages 14 and 15, were charged in connection with the bomb threat.
Three girls were injured when they were trampled while leaving the school and were taken to a hospital, police said, and a Rich South teacher and a Richton Park police officer also were treated at a hospital for minor injuries.