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Fans Banned From High School Basketball Game

February 6, 1990

ATLANTA, Texas (AP) _ The Atlanta and Gilmer boys’ basketball teams are tied for first place, but fans, parents, reporters or other outsiders won’t see their game tonight.

After a post-game brawl 10 days ago, officials in both school districts in northeastern Texas are not taking any chances of a repeat performance, which would result in the schools being disqualified from the Class 3A playoffs.

The two schools are tied for first place in District 3A-15 with Linden- Kildare. Each have 5-2 records.

The University Interscholastic League, which governs public school athletics in Texas, could bar both teams from playoff contention for unsportsmanlike conduct.

″We’re not admitting anyone who’s not a school official, player, coach or official for the game,″ said J.D. Cox, Atlanta school superintendent. ″We were trying to protect the integrity of the programs in both the schools. What our biggest fear is is that you will have fans ... whose one ambition in life is to get something started.″

To Sonny Long, The Atlanta Citizens Journal sports editor, the ban is a violation of his right to cover an event at a public institution.

″I think I have a right to be there. ... It’s a bad precedent to set, especially when there are no fans present. Somebody needs to be the eyes and ears of the public,″ Long said.

Long’s protests to the league were to no avail.

League Director Bailey Marshall said he agreed with Cox that Long should not be allowed into the game, since allowing media representatives would make it more difficult to ban the public.

″We’re not trying to violate anybody’s constitutional rights,″ said Cox. ″We’re just trying to have a game without any tension where the kids can play and get this out of their system.″

But Long said the ban has had the unintended effect of increasing attention on the game.

″Unfortunately, the negative coverage they were worried about has multiplied tenfold,″ Long said.

Marshall said two or three other games have been closed to outsiders in Texas during the past 10 years, either for crowd control or disciplinary reasons.

Cox said the ban on spectators will only be for this game. He said that if the two teams meet again in the playoffs, that game will be open and played in a bigger gym with more crowd control.

Meantime, school officials and the league intend to teach a lesson about fights at sporting events.

″It is a message to everyone concerned that we’re going to control it one way or the other,″ Marshall said. ″It’s to get the attention of everybody concerned that we’re not going to have it.″

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