When Fans Become the Focus

Administration, police work to keep spectators safe during sporting events


Vaughn Ullom

Shaker Heights Police Department officers are present at every home basketball game

The high school has faced safety concerns throughout the last few years in its athletic events such as basketball and hockey games, specifically due to the spectators.

Recent incidents of fan misbehavior, at Shaker and elsewhere, have heightened concerns about security at athletic events.

The Dec. 15, 2021 men’s basketball home game against Maple Heights High School was postponed after a fight involving both teams. Police responded to the incident “for reports of a possible threat,” according to the police report. “The game did get canceled. A lot of police came with, like, canine units to shut the whole scene down. All the teams were benched just to sit down to resolve the situation,” said junior Kaden Aaron, who was a sophomore at the time of the game.

Two seasons prior, Shaker and Charles F. Brush High School administrators ended the Feb. 6, 2019 home game during halftime as Shaker Heights police arrested a Euclid spectator for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. This incident was fueled by spectators, and a rumor about weapons moved through the crowd.

In recent years, other schools in Northeast Ohio have also dealt with incidents in which spectators at school athletic events caused safety concerns. Garfield Heights High School hosted Cleveland Heights High School for a football game Aug. 26, resulting in a Cleveland Heights victory. The game concluded with shots being fired by an unnamed suspect in the Garfield Heights High School parking lot. Since the incident, Garfield Heights has limited attendance to their home games.

These incidents are not confined to Lake Erie League schools. Fights broke out among spectators at a Collinwood High School football game in Cleveland, requiring police already on the scene to call for backup.

These events have forced high school athletic departments, including Shaker’s, to have serious conversations about spectator and player safety during athletic events. “It’s definitely a priority conversation that all districts are having,” Athletic Director Michael Babinec said. “We are constantly reviewing the way we do things when it comes to event management, operations, plans, security, logistics, et cetera.”

Babinec and the athletic department regularly work with SHPD officers to oversee home games. “We work with Shaker Heights P.D. for specific events. Shaker Heights PD is not at every one of our home athletic events,” Babinec said. “They are typically at the events where we anticipate the largest crowds. So, right now, we have Shaker Heights PD on site for varsity football games, varsity hockey games, and varsity boys’ and girls’ basketball games.”

Concern about fan behavior is not new. Until 2018, hockey games were marked by poor behavior of intoxicated students, which led the district to institute breath testing for admission.

SHPD’s focus then becomes what arrests or medical assistance must be issued if an incident was to occur. “It’s our primary responsibility to assess for any injured parties, to offer first aid,” said Sgt. Tim Grafton, SHPD community engagement unit supervisor. “Then we seek information through witnesses or physical evidence on the scene.”

Police efforts begin before games and continue afterward. “Shaker Heights Police Department maintains a presence in the area after each sporting event. We have uniformed officers on foot and officers in police cruisers patrolling the area,” Grafton said.

In addition to the police, Principal Eric Juli, Babinec and other Shaker administrators also ensure safety during the big games. “Look around and you’ll see police in specific spots, you’ll see security in specific spots, you’ll see assistant principals in specific spots, and you’ll see me looking more in the stands than I am looking at the game. People are in places with specific intent, jobs and plans in place,” Juli said.

Babinec also said that he is aware of students having run-ins with security staff or police and expressing their frustration with their presence.“I would say to those kids that we’re trying to create an environment where everyone is welcome and everyone is here to have a good time,” he said.

Grafton said that he assures people who wish to attend athletics events that high school staff and the SHPD will provide fans with the best possible security measures to keep their experience safe.

Juli explained that Shaker’s staff is only present to ensure the best when it comes to Shaker Heights spectators. “I think that security is there to help. I think that we’re all there to help,” Juli said.

Juli and Babinec both assure students that school security and Shaker Heights law enforcement are not at athletic events to give people a hard time. “There is a job to do, and students to be kept safe,” said Juli. “So, I’m OK with a little frustration. We’re going to keep on having security. We’re going to keep on having police. We’re going to keep on having administrators there, and if people’s feelings get a little bit hurt, that’s OK. We’ll apologize and keep everybody safe.”

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