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Security tightens at St. Louis area high school football games after fights, shootings

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Area school districts beefed up their security for high school football games this weekend following fights and gunfire at two preseason events in St. Louis and Creve Coeur last week.

Many Friday night games were washed out when storms rumbled through. But on Saturday, Soldan High School held its home opener against John Burroughs School, one week after 8-year-old Jurnee Thompson was fatally shot after a football exhibition featuring six St. Louis city high schools at Soldan.

Before the start of Saturday’s game, at least nine security guards stood at two entrances to the field along Union Boulevard in the city’s Academy neighborhood. The guards checked everyone’s bags including those brought in by players and cheerleaders. Guards also opened spectators’ bags and used metal detector wands on people at the main gate.

Originally, St. Louis Public Schools’ new guidelines allowed only clear bags inside the field. But on Saturday, officials allowed small bags and purses rather than turning people away to stow them in their vehicles. Guards reported finding no weapons though they did instruct one woman, an intern with Burroughs’ athletic department, to return her pepper spray to her car.

“I think it’s heartbreaking for all our kids that the extra security is necessary,” said Kellie Hynes of St. Louis, whose son Aaron Guller is a sophomore on Burroughs’ squad.

Hynes’ husband Bob Guller said he felt “very comfortable” going through security at Soldan because “we want everyone to feel safe.”

Byron Price, 61, of University City, attended the Soldan-Burroughs game Saturday to watch his nephew play on Soldan’s football team. He said being wanded at the front gate didn’t bother him.

“I’d rather them be cautious than not pay attention to what’s going on,” Price said. “I think we just can’t afford for another child’s life to be taken senselessly.”

After fights broke out the night of Aug. 23 at Soldan’s preseason jamboree, shots were fired as police tried to clear the area, St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden said. Jurnee had attended the football event with a cousin and was standing outside a restaurant when she was shot, Hayden said last week.

Her cousin, Jason Adams, 16, and his friend Mason Hawkins, 16, also were struck and taken to a hospital. A 64-year-old woman was hit in the leg. No one has been charged in connection with the shootings.

Ken Brison of north St. Louis County, who joined his wife at Saturday’s game at Soldan to watch their son play for Burroughs, said the extra security Saturday was “no big deal.”

“Today is a lot different from then,” he said. “You had a lot of different schools, and from what I heard, some of the school buses were late. With that many people together, they had some kind of conflict. With just two schools and during the day time, no problem.”

Also on Aug. 23, eight area high schools were participating in scrimmages at another football exhibition at Parkway North High School in Creve Coeur. That event was canceled after fights broke out around 8:15 p.m. Police said shots were fired, causing the crowd to flee. There were no injuries nor damage reported.

Parkway School District announced this week it would ban bags and backpacks in its high school stadiums at football games, with exceptions for purses, diaper bags and medical equipment — after inspections. The district also said it would hire additional security to staff the games and would not allow re-entry if attendees leave.

Five other districts — Ritenour, Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Rockwood and Riverview Gardens — this week announced similar security measures at home football games.

In a letter dated Aug. 25 sent to parents and staff, Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty said he was working with administrators from other schools to investigate the incident and address security concerns.

“What happened Friday night makes us angry and sad,” Marty wrote. “It is difficult to understand how and why things like this happen today, especially at a place where students should feel safe and happy. Our children deserve better and it is unacceptable.”

Football teams in St. Louis and Ferguson-Florissant districts combined players from different schools this year, but district officials said they didn’t expect any increased tension from those mergers.

Sumner High in the city’s Ville neighborhood shut down its football program this season for lack of players. The 11 remaining Sumner players joined Soldan’s varsity team of 49 players. The combined team has been working out together since last spring on conditioning drills and weight lifting, according to a St. Louis Public Schools spokeswoman.

Ameyah Breckenridge of St. Louis was at Soldan on Saturday to see her son DeMarkco Smith, a Sumner senior, play on the combined team.

“It has to be done — you never know,” Breckenridge said of the new security measures. “I guess it’s what’s necessary.”

McCluer South-Berkeley High School was converted to a STEAM Academy in Ferguson-Florissant this year and no longer fields a football team. Head coach Howard Brown and players transferred to McCluer High School. Ninety students turned out for the football team there this year after years of dwindling participation.

“I sincerely believe that sport and football at McCluer can be a part of some healing in the community,” said Kevin Hampton, spokesman for the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

Hampton said he also understands school safety from a parent’s perspective. His daughter attends Parkway North and was in the stands a week ago Friday night when fights broke out there.

“We want our families to feel safe and enjoy events where they can see kids doing great things on the athletic field,” he said.

LeNora Pittman of St. Louis brought her 12-year-old daughter Cierra to watch Pittman’s nephew play for Burroughs on Saturday. She said going through a checkpoint at a high school football game was a “new experience” but appreciated the additional security.

“It’s a good thing,” Pittman said. “We have to protect our kids. … Lately it’s been too many children out here dying young. That is not acceptable.”

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