SEBRING — The longtime Sebring-Avon Park rivalry erupted into a post-game ruckus involving about 100 juveniles Friday night near Firemen’s Field and the Mobile Mart convenience store, prompting discussion on increasing security next year.
Sebring Police reported numerous fights around 10:15 p.m. after the Sebring-Avon Park high school football game. There were no arrests and no reported injuries. It was the last scheduled football game of the season.
School Board Member Jan Shoop said she and a Sebring High School freshman she is mentoring discussed the incident Tuesday afternoon.
The student said she was glad she didn’t go to the game, Shoop said.
“People were talking about it and I just stayed away from it,” the student said, according to Shoop.
It can ruin it for so many of the good kids who were there, Shoop said. There were some problems years ago with some basketball games.
Shoop hopes security will be increased next year.
“Prevention is the way to go and not wait until it happens,” she said.
Sebring Police Lt. Bruce Crum said he and Chief Tom Dettman discussed adding a couple of more officers on the night when the game is held in Sebring.
Deputy Superintendent Rodney Hollinger said Tuesday the administration at both Avon Park and Sebring high schools were looking into any reports concerning the Friday night incident, but there was no information that was “plausible” that they could act upon.
It has been a considerable amount time since an incident prompted basketball games between Avon Park and Sebring to be held during school hours, he said.
Only parents and students of the host school were allowed to attend those games, Hollinger noted. The games have been back to a regular schedule for quite awhile.
Sebring Police Sgt. Andrew Markham said there was one officer at the scene Friday during the incident so without backup he couldn’t “step into something he couldn’t step back out of.”
There were all these juveniles fighting on the perimeter of the football field and down the railroad tracks, he said. The officer broke it up with pepper spray and the juveniles took off running.
The officer didn’t try to single out any person, Markham noted.
“Out of protocol you don’t chase a hundred people with one person. You wait on your backup and they hadn’t arrived,” he said. By the time backup arrived everyone had scattered.
Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Nell Hays explained that the sheriff’s office provides security for the football games.
“There were seven deputies and a sergeant at the football game, which according to Deputy Chief [Mark Schrader] is more than adequate coverage even for a high tension game like that always is,” Hays said.
According to the report, the incident occurred after the game and off campus, she said, so the Sheriff’s Department’s presence at the game seemed to be adequate and the department would likely not make any changes in the future.
“Kids are going to be kids and this is always a volatile game and it’s probably why they had the basketball game in the middle of the day when the two schools play,” she said. “You are never going to get away from these intra-county rivalries, it’s a part of school.”
The incident prompted comments on Facebook.
Ruth Anne Grimaldi Lawson said the school and law enforcement did a great job.
“There were extra officers at the game and extra staff,” she said. “I saw one fight and the school and officers broke it up very quickly. I felt very safe at the game.”
Ray Napper said this is not the first time this has happened.
“They need to just stop playing each other or do it without fans. The fans are the problem.” he said. “Always have been and always will be as long as we push rivalries.”
Zachary Simon Blatt said it is a rival game with a physical sport.
“Boys will be boys. Y’all are making a big deal out of nothing,” he said.