Halftime Magazine|November/December 2019
When fans and marching band members enter a stadium to experience the spectacle of athletic competition, they rarely consider the complicated logistics implemented by security personnel, game day operations staff, and band directors to ensure their safety throughout the day. Until, that is, an incident occurs.
On Aug. 24, 2019, following a game versus the University of Miami, Jay Watkins, director of the University of Florida Marching Band, was injured. According to media reports, Watkins was grabbed from behind and pushed to the ground after attempting to stop a woman from getting through his band’s ranks as it exited Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, to get to the buses.
Less than one month later, University of Iowa marching band members reported that they experienced physical and verbal abuse from Iowa State University fans as the band exited onto a crowded pathway at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa, following the rivalry game on Sept. 14.
News reports reveal that the opposing marching bands were not involved in the incidents and showed empathy and support to the individuals who were hurt.
No matter its size, every academic institution has an emergency action plan that includes public safety at athletic events, says Justin M. Eberly, an Emergency Medical Technician and firefighter with a background in public emergency management and with experience working with marching bands.
Considering recent events in Florida and Iowa, colleges and high schools should review and revise their game day security plans and procedures to keep everyone safe.
“As directors we have to put our kids in safe environments, and we have to advocate for our guests with our own people on our campuses,” says Jeffrey Fuchs, director of university bands at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.
Mistreatment of visiting bands goes back decades. By the mid-2000s, Dr. Mark Spede, director of bands at Clemson University and the current national president of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), had seen enough. Alarmed by the deterioration of fan behavior toward visiting bands, he convened and chaired a task force to address the issue. He and seven other band directors drafted the College and University Athletic Band Guidelines in May 2008. The goal was to provide information and recommendations on best practices for athletic bands.
Spede implemented the guidelines at Clemson immediately. More than 10 years later, he says that he’s happy with the results. “We’ve noticed a marked difference in fan behavior here,” Spede says. “Is it perfect? No. But better? Yes.”
The responsibility of keeping a visiting band safe falls squarely on the shoulders of both the host and the visiting band, and it all begins in the parking lot. The most likely time for an altercation between a visiting band and a home team’s fans is during transit, directors say.
Stadium operations should choose a parking lot and transit routes that steer the visiting band clear of home fans. “If you have to go through the student area to get into the stadium, that’s a lot more dangerous,” says Fuchs, who was a member of the CBDNA task force.
Jay Rees, director of bands at the University of Miami, agrees that schools need to examine the logistics of ingress, egress, and staging to assure that band members are safe and to clearly communicate their procedures to guests. Rees did not comment on the specific situation with the University of Florida at the game against Miami.
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