Sunday, September 23, 2018

Pasco County high schools tighten football game security, more sports to follow

Responding to incidents elsewhere in Florida, Pasco County high schools have rolled out new security measures — including a ban on all but clear bags — for fans attending football games.

Fans learned of the bag prohibition, along with an updated crowd code of conduct, during announcements at Friday's four home games. District officials plan to send messages home throughout the week, while also posting signs in stadiums at all 13 high schools and 16 middle schools.

The rules will apply to all secondary-level athletic events, "as appropriate," assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn advised school administrators in an after-hours memo Friday, just before kickoff time.

"We haven't had any big issues," county athletic director Matt Wicks said. "But across the state there have been some."

He referred specifically to shootings at games in Palm Beach and Duval counties during the first weeks of the season. Many districts throughout Florida quickly enacted bag bans and other related rules, and Pasco sought to join them as a precautionary measure in this time of heightened concerns.

"It's just the right thing to do," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Under the new rules, patrons will be allowed to carry only clear plastic or vinyl bags into games. That can include clear Ziploc or similar bags. People with bags for diapers or medical equipment will be exempted. And all bags will be subject to search.

The district will post a list of banned items, which will include the usual weapons, glass bottles and projectiles, as well as recreational balls, selfie sticks and horns.

Wicks stressed that the change will not affect players who bring their bags and drinks to games, and that it's not intended to eliminate spirit groups who make noise to rouse the crowds.

The district also will enforce a stricter code of conduct for people attending the games, with consequences possible for unruly behavior, abusive language and intoxication, among other violations.

Fans won't be allowed into games after the fourth quarter has begun, and will be expected to quickly clear the stadiums and parking lots after the final whistle.

Some Pasco schools started implementing such actions on their own already, Wicks said. This move helps ensure all schools are enforcing the same rules, he said.

Law enforcement agencies are collaborating with the district on the effort.

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