published Sunday, January 13th, 2013

School on offense: Howard moves basketball game to afternoon to curb a rash of shootings

Police officers stood guard saturday at the Howard vs. Tyner basketball game held in Henry W. Bowles Gymansium. While security at the game was not heightened, it was rescheduled to saturday afternoon following recent post game shootings at area high schools.
Police officers stood guard saturday at the Howard vs. Tyner basketball game held in Henry W. Bowles Gymansium. While security at the game was not heightened, it was rescheduled to saturday afternoon following recent post game shootings at area high schools.
Photo by Jay Bailey.

Competing against the shrieks of mothers, the hoots of teenage boys, the rhythmic claps of cheerleaders and the squeaks of basketball shoes, Harrison Morgan's voice barely traveled from his seat in the bleachers to the man behind him.

"There's no defense!" Morgan said early in the third quarter Saturday, as Tyner poured in consecutive buckets to cut into Howard's lead inside Henry W. Bowles Gymnasium -- "Home of the Hustlin' Tigers."

Posted up near the court, at least one at each corner, stood six police officers. And out in the gym's lobby, a couple more officers waited. In the parking lot, a line of nine patrol cars sat, several of them meeting hood to bumper like a law-enforcing snake, just waiting.

In all, 10 officers guarded the Howard campus Saturday afternoon. That level of protection is typical for a high school basketball game -- at least a rivalry game, police said. The time of the Howard-Tyner meeting, however, was unusual.

The schools were supposed to play Friday night, but after last week's game between Howard and Brainerd, police say a teenage boy fired from a car in the parking lot. The gunfire didn't hit anybody, just a couple of cars. And police arrested the alleged shooter.

The shooter had nothing to do with Howard or anybody inside the gym, Principal Paul Smith said.

That didn't matter. The shooting was the third outside a local high school basketball game in six weeks, and all three were Howard games. So on Monday the school announced it would move this week's games from Friday night to Saturday, with the girls playing at noon and the boys tipping off soon after.

Smith said night games provide a cover to anyone wanting to spray bullets into a big crowd, and moving the event to the afternoon would help the police catch a shooter. Officials from Tyner also liked the idea, so they moved next week's game against Brainerd to Saturday.

Sitting in the bleachers, Morgan wore a white Howard sweatshirt with "CLASS OF 82" in yellow block letters printed on the back. He said he has been going to Howard basketball games since the '70s and played on the team with NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White in the old gym near where police say the shooter's gun spit bullets last week.

Morgan, 49, said he doesn't remember a string of shootings at basketball games like this. He has one son on the team and twins in middle school. He doesn't let them go to Friday night games. Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons are fine. But don't hang around on Fridays.

"You always had fights and stuff," Morgan said of the rivalry games. "But then they turned to a new level: shooting."

Last week, Smith had just turned out of the school parking lot when one of his assistant principals called him. You should probably come back, Smith remembers hearing. K-9 teams tracked down the shooter soon after, but Smith said the games needed to change.

The gym was barely half full Saturday. Last week, fans packed the bleachers. But Smith said the afternoon games drew a different crowd. Parents looking for an appetizer to Saturday's NFL playoff games showed up with their young children. You just don't see toddlers at 7 p.m. on a Friday, Smith said.

During the game, Morgan sat next to his 3-year-old son, Jeremiah. The boy had never been to a game before, Morgan said. At first, Jeremiah didn't know how to act. He sat silent for most of the game, stuffing the green beads from his necklace into his mouth.

Eventually, as Howard closed out its 50-46 win, Jeremiah began yelling and slapping palms together. And then he left, and everyone else did, too.

Outside, Howard School Resource Officer Pam Davis urged teenagers to go home. The afternoon had been uneventful, and of course she wanted it to end that way. Who knows what will happen next week? Officers want to keep the guns from off campus, but there's only so much they can do.

"It's very irritating when you take all the necessary precautions and something still happens," she said. "It's frustrating. To think some kid could have lost his life."

There's no defense.

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