ST. PETERSBURG — A wild scene erupted during the football game between Lakewood and Gibbs high schools Friday night when gunshots were fired near the crowded stadium, police said.
The opening night of varsity football was marred about 10:25 p.m. when, witnesses said, Lakewood football players, cheerleaders, coaches and referees all hit the ground as several shots rang out.
Then the sold-out crowd of about 1,500 started scrambling out of their seats, lying down on the bleachers or running under them for cover.
"I just saw some flashes, but it wasn't aimed at the stadium, they were shooting into the air," said Lakewood High sophomore Monica Scruggs, 16. "Me and my friends, we laid down on the bleachers so we wouldn't get shot."
Police said the shooting was the result of a feud between two rival groups of young men. But there were also reports that the shots came from a car that drove by the school.
No one was hurt, St. Petersburg police said.
There were five minutes left in the game with Lakewood leading its crosstown rival 32-12. But that was it for Lakewood principal Robert Vicari. He ordered the game ended, both teams moved inside the school and the stadium evacuated.
"After that, I wasn't going to take a chance," he said.
Gibbs' football team and cheerleaders were put on their buses and quickly sent away. Officers kept fans away from the area south of the stadium that police cars had blocked off around 16th Street S and 58th Avenue.
Police said they found different calibers of shell casings in that area, which is about 100 yards southwest of the stadium. After the shooting the men fled in several different directions, police said.
The Lakewood sideline and bleachers face toward 16th Street S, so they would have been facing the area. The Gibbs sideline and fans would have been facing the field and had their backs turned toward that area.
Multiple police cars quickly descended upon Lakewood Stadium. Police said they had arrested one man who may have witnessed the shooting.
It is Vicari's first year as principal at Lakewood, and his first regular-season football game with the Spartans. The principal said the students all seemed to know what to do both during the shooting and afterward, resulting in an orderly evacuation.
"The kids reacted well," Vicari said. "They hit the floor. They listened to our directions."
Sophomore Taesjona Mount, 15, appeared to be calm after the incident. But she was also grateful.
"I'm just happy I'm alive," she said.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.