For the second time in less than a week, a Chattanooga rivalry basketball doubleheader has been rescheduled because of the threat of violence. Following the lead of the Tyner-at-Howard matchup that was changed from tonight to Saturday at noon, next week's Brainerd-at-Tyner games have been moved from Friday night also to Saturday at noon.
The changes are the result of three recent shootings outside local gymnasiums, all after rivalry basketball games.
"I haven't been in a situation like this before. It's unfortunate, but safety comes before money," Tyner coach Gerald Harris said. "It's still not a guarantee, but we have to do something. This may be a precedent for how things will be to come."
Safety for fans and players has become a major concern after gunfire erupted on or near the Brainerd, Howard and Tyner campuses following games. Coaches have said the problem is not spectators in the stands, but people who hang around in the parking lot after the games looking to cause trouble.
Administrators already tried adding more security in trying to avoid further shootings. Brainerd coach Robert High said his school typically hires 10 uniformed officers for rivalry games but had added three more for recent rivalry games, with most of them asked to patrol the parking lot and area surrounding the campus.
"In my 36 years of coaching I've never seen anything like what's happened recently," High said. "The main concern is trying to prevent people from hanging around outside the gym or in the parking lot, or even just sitting in their cars. The police are asking people to move along for everybody's safety.
"It's typically been people who aren't even affiliated with the schools that are causing the problems. It's people who aren't in school anymore that come back and are looking to make trouble."
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith has met with representatives from the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office as well as administrators from Brainerd, Howard and Tyner to see what steps could be taken to ensure safety. He hinted last month that he would begin taking further steps, changing game times and possibly even canceling games.
According to assistant superintendent Lee McDade, the two recent game changes were the decision of administrators at those schools.
"We haven't asked them to change the game times, but it's probably a good idea, at least for now as a precaution," said McDade, who added that if there is any further violence during or after athletic events, the school board could make a countywide rule change for all high school games to be moved to Saturday afternoon, including football next fall.
Atlanta teams play rivalry games on Saturday afternoons, while Detroit plays its games right after school and Birmingham teams play rivalry games in front of the student body during school.
Although it isn't as important as safety, one concern of having games moved from Friday night is the belief that the crowds and the money made from gate receipts will be smaller. Howard athletic director Michael Calloway said the school can make $8,000-$9,000 for rivalry games such as against Brainerd and Tyner, after all expenses. That money typically funds the cost of running the programs, paying for such things as uniforms, shoes and summer camps.
"We're trying to see if we can get loyal fans to still come but keep away the ones who come out just to cause trouble," Calloway said. "The school is a meeting ground. Any time some of these kids that have issues with each other have a place to meet, that's where the problem happens. So hopefully moving the start of the games to daytime will prevent things from getting out of hand."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...