Parents fear some areas more than the opponent

Friday, September 12, 2008

Phil Bucher, the father of Jackson senior linebacker Drew Bucher, was one the parents locked down inside Riverview Gardens High School for approximately an half-hour because of an alleged shooting in the neighborhood surrounding the St. Louis-area high school's football stadium after the Indians' Week 1 road game.

Bucher and other parents immediately after the incident became concerned for the safety of their sons, who would be traveling to the city of St. Louis in Week 3 to play Gateway Tech.

Some parents considered not letting their sons play unless Jackson administrators and coaches were able to reschedule the contest from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, as the parents believed that the chance of violence occurring during the daytime was less likely than at night.

Jackson coaches and administrators were unable to reschedule the game, which will be played tonight at 6:30 p.m.

Coaches met with parents twice and assured them that additional security would be present, and that Gateway Tech's stadium is in a safer area than Riverview Gardens' field. Gateway Tech is in a commercial section while Riverview Gardens is in residential neighborhood in north St. Louis County.

Indians coach Van Hitt expects all his players to be at the game after some uncertainty over whether he would have a full team.

Bucher said Drew will play, although he admitted he is somewhat uncomfortable and not completely satisfied with Jackson's decision to play at night.

"I've just got to put it in God's hands, and hopefully the school knows what they're doing," Bucher said.

"For myself, I'm still up in the air, but I've talked to my son about it and he feels comfortable about going up there," Bucher added. "This is his senior year."

Scheduling opponents and scheduling the dates and times of games is often difficult for athletic directors and coaches at schools in both St. Louis and Southeast Missouri.

Some Jackson parents were upset the Indians' games against Riverview Gardens and Gateway Tech were scheduled on Friday nights instead of Saturday afternoons, when Riverview and Gateway both play a number of their games. But some city schools factor in their own safety reasons when deciding which opponents to schedule during the day and which opponents to schedule for night games.

Some local athletic directors and football coaches said multiple factors, including times and locations, need to be examined when scheduling opponents to keep student-athletes safe because violence is commonplace in today's society.

The yearly average criminal homicide rate in St. Louis city, where teams such as Gateway Tech, Riverview Gardens, Vashon, Roosevelt and other high schools host games, is 121 victims, while a yearly average of 7,733 violent crimes occur, according to statistics from between 2001 and 2007 on the Missouri State Highway Patrol Web site. A yearly average of 361 criminal homicides and 30,422 violent crimes between 2001 and 2007, occurred statewide.

St. Louis city has had 112 or more criminal homicides six of the past seven years.

"Administrations at every school that you go to are on their guard," Scott City coach Ronnie Jones said. "It's just a sign of the times of our society. We have a bunch of nuts out there and it seems like people will just go out of the way to get attention for themselves. I doubt it very seriously you can go anywhere and be totally safe."

Night vs. afternoon

The reason Jackson and Gateway Tech could not reschedule its game is because other high school teams play at the city field and it was already signed out for Saturday.

"I know [Jackson] used to play Roosevelt and that was always a Saturday game," Bucher said. "And that was our concern. Our concern was the well-being of our kids."

Some Jackson parents were upset the games against Gateway and Riverview were not scheduled to played Saturday afternoon.

Riverview Gardens plays host to five games this year — two scheduled for Friday nights and three for Saturday afternoons.

Gateway Tech hosts six home games this fall — three are night games and three are scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

"My feelings were with the other one [the Riverview game] that if it was a day game, nothing would have happened," said Dan Peiffer, the father of senior linebacker Blake Peiffer. "And then there would have been no issue.

"Why it was scheduled that way? It was. It would have been better to have day games. But it's not, and that's the way it is."

Riverview Gardens athletic director Mike Walters has listened to feedback from city coaches, and he thinks the majority of them prefer playing football on Friday nights because they want Saturday to recover from the week and scout other opponents.

But Walters said different factors must be considered when scheduling the times and dates of games, such as the proximity of the opposing school's team.

He said his school is more likely to schedule a night game against a team such as Jackson, rather than Hazelwood East — a school only 3 miles away from Riverview Gardens. Walters believes the chance of neighborhood conflict increases when two local schools meet.

"Hazelwood East, they are our next-door neighbor," Walters said. "Some of the kids live in the same neighborhoods, but go to different schools. So you get that neighborhood aspect of it that's hard to keep out of the stadium. So I think a decision has been made by just about everybody involved that 'let's just play it on a Saturday. The heck with all the commotion and worrying about it.' And you can get your purist [who says], 'You can't let the punks in the neighborhood determine when we play our games or whatever.' I don't necessarily disagree with that. But I think you still have to really look at things and then do what you think is right."

Walters said less chance of conflict arises on a Friday when Riverview plays a team like Jackson.

"Our kids know the Hazelwood East kids," Walters said. "The Hazelwood East kids know our kids. Our kids don't know where Jackson is unless they look at a map. They probably knew that they are a decent football team, but fans and even nonfans have no beef with Jackson.

"Rock Bridge, they are our next night game," Walters added. "There's no huge rivalry there. Our kids don't know who Rock Bridge is."

Walters said he graduated from Riverview Gardens and lived in the adjacent neighborhood to where the shooting occurred.

He said he can remember the excitement he felt back to the 1960s as a youngster walking to the stadium on Friday nights to watch a game. He said he thinks the community still feels a great deal of excitement over Friday night games, and so that is why they continue to schedule them.

Walters added that whenever a game is on Friday night, it always starts at 6 p.m. to allow it to get over earlier to better avoid possible situations.

Gateway Tech assistant principal Chip Clatto said Gateway Tech's three Saturday afternoon games were not scheduled with the thought of preventing possible violence. He said it's just the way his athletic director decided to schedule the games. Clatto said he is not sure why the night games were schedule at 6:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

Scheduling by local ADs

When scheduling new opponents, coaches and athletic directors examine various factors.

"When you schedule a game, you try to do your homework prior," Jones said. "It's very obvious. There are certain areas that are not as desirable as others. With that being said, you just try to schedule the people who you feel like will do the good things that will let you have a good ballgame."

St. Vincent athletic director Bruce Valleroy said athletic directors can research the safety of a prospective opponent's community by talking with athletic directors and administrators of other schools that recently have played the school. Valleroy, who does the scheduling for every sports team at St. Vincent, said schools also could do more research on the violence rates in areas when making the schedule.

Central football coach Rich Payne said those scheduling games must be smart about picking opponents, locations and times to assure the safety of students.

But Payne added that scheduling sometimes is difficult for Class 5 Southeast Missouri schools such as Central and Jackson because both are surrounded by many smaller schools. As a result, the schools must sometimes travel longer distances to play unfamiliar opponents.

"It makes it harder to find people who will play you," Payne said. "So the St. Louis schools come into play and out of state schools come into play. So it's just tougher being in Southeast Missouri and being a large school in Southeast Missouri and trying to find opponents."

Jackson athletic director John Martin said he also had difficulty finding teams for the Indians to play this year because of the program's success last year. He added that if he schedules future road games against Gateway Tech and Riverview Gardens, he will look to make it a Saturday afternoon game.

The Indians had to add six new opponents, including Riverview Gardens and Gateway Tech, to this year's schedule after they posted a 10-0 record during the 2007 regular season.

"When you finish third or fourth in the state, or whatever we did last year, not a whole lot of people want to play you," Martin said.

Valleroy said teams usually do not want to schedule nonleague games against dominant opponents.

"[Jackson] is probably in a tough situation because they don't have too many teams to choose from to play because no one really wants to play them," Valleroy said. "I know North County was like that a few years ago. I remember they were searching to find games. They ended up going to the other side of the state to find people to play."

Tonight's game

Martin said at least three Jackson school administrators and two Jackson resource officers will attend tonight's game.

"They told us [at the last meeting] they were going to bring more security and do all that, and they reassured us that it's in a different area [from Riverview], and you can't judge the area," Bucher said. "It isn't fair to them that we're judging them because of what happened at Riverview Gardens. And you can't. All you can do is go up there and play, and hopefully everything will be all right."

Walters doesn't foresee any problems for Jackson.

"It's total commercial," Walters said about the area in which Gateway Tech's stadium is located. "It's totally industrial. ... If we were scheduled with them and they wanted to play us Friday night down there, we'd go. And we wouldn't hesitate."

Clatto said Gateway Tech has safety officers at every entrance and stationed around the perimeter of the field.

"You can rest assured that everybody — the Jackson fans, the Gateway fans — is going to be safe," Clatto said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: