By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
“Safety first” will be the watch words at all high school events sanctioned by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.
The athletes deserve to be safe; the coaches and game officials deserve to be safe; and the spectators who support prep sports by attending games and contests deserve to be safe. And, the LHSAA continually takes steps to provide the proper safety environment for everyone involved in staging an athletic event, said assistant executive director Lee Sanders.
Speaking at the recent preseason football rules meeting held at East Jefferson High School, Sanders told the attending head coaches and officials from the Greater New Orleans area that the state association will require officials and school personnel to meet prior to the start of a game to discuss the various protocols that must be followed.
“We live in a much different world than 10, 20 or 30 years ago,” Sanders told the attendees. “In order to minimize risks by doing everything we can to ensure the safety and security of all the people who attend LHSAA contests, this year the LHSAA is requiring a pregame administrative meeting of participants, the schools’ principals or their designees, a representative of the officials’ association, a uniformed officer of the contest’s security staff and any medical personnel and auxiliary staff.”
The meeting should last only about five minutes, Sanders said, but it will cover all aspects of handling situations that may arise.
The officials will have a checklist of all necessary protocols should one of any emergencies arise between the opening kickoff and the time that the crew of officials leaves the stadium.
The referee (or crew chief) will want to know “the names, titles, responsibilities and location of everyone involved,” Sanders told the audience. “Where will you be during the game? Where will the appropriate health-care professional be if we need to diagnose a concussion? Where are the appropriate uniformed security personnel going to be if we need help with some kind of issue that requires support from security?”
The 10-30 rule
Weather protocol will be a key topic of pregame conversation, especially during the late days of summer and temperate early days of fall when this area is vulnerable to tropical weather disturbances.
Sanders, who oversees high school officials in every sport sanctioned by the LHSAA, wants the officials to assure that a lightning detector is at the site, and to designate someone to be responsible for monitoring the device.
“What’s the significance of the 10-30 rule?” he asked the gathering, many who answered correctly and in unison: If there is a lightning strike within 10 miles of the stadium, there must be a 30-minute delay of the game (or any outdoor event). And if there are no subsequent strikes during that half-hour period, the officials may resume play following a three-minute warm-up period.
Of course, the mandatory hydration breaks at the six-minute mark of each period will continue through the month of October.
Keeping officials safe
The safety of game officials has always been assumed to be of paramount importance. But thanks to the passage of a rule by the LHSAA principals at their January 2019 meeting, it is now a priority item.
“Last year, about 45 miles from here, we had a contest official who was battered in the parking lot of a stadium after a game,” Sanders said.
There have been many incidents of angry spectators accosting officials, but most of the unfortunate situations have happened at games played in semi-rural communities.
One exception occurred in 1964 in a game played in the metro New Orleans area when East Jefferson and West Jefferson, both undefeated in District 4-AAA play, met in Harvey. More than 8,000 spectators, most of whom were ardent Buccaneer fans, were incensed that the visiting Warriors, who held a decisive 7-1-1 record in the young and developing rivalry, won the game, 20-19, on what they felt was the result of poor officiating.
A swarm of people stopped traffic trying to leave the stadium while some fans sorted through vehicles to find the officials, reported Times-Picayune writer Ed Staton in a column days later. There was no follow-up report.
The new edict directs police or authorized uniformed security personnel, detailed by the host school, to assure that the game officials enter and leave the venues safely. Sanders said his office will disseminate this information to all member schools in a few days.
Emergencies must be handled quickly and efficiently.
“What do we do in a ‘Code Red’ situation? Where is the medical staff? Where is the (host team’s) athletic director? Do we have someone present who is a certified trainer and appropriate health care professionals?” Sanders said as he read off his protocol checklist.
By recognized definition, “Code Red” is a very serious security warning that indicates an emergency situation or threat of a dangerous situation that has deteriorated drastically so as to constitute an emergency.
Sanders said he wants every situation covered with no stone left unturned. The LHSAA and its members owe that much to the fans of high school sports.
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.