Upper Darby will allow members of the public to attend high school winter sporting events, after a new policy restricting access to games due to safety concerns drew backlash over the weekend.
People who show up at games and aren’t on preapproved lists submitted by Upper Darby or visiting teams will have to be approved by school personnel before they can buy tickets, district officials said in a statement Saturday night.
The district issued the statement after announcing last week that it was closing winter sports games to the public, limiting attendance to students with Upper Darby-issued IDs, parents and family members invited by Upper Darby and its visiting teams, and students from the visiting team’s school with valid IDs.
The Inquirer and other news outlets reported Friday and Saturday on the change, which district leaders said followed an altercation at Upper Darby’s Dec. 17 boys’ basketball game against Haverford Township and was an effort to ensure a safe environment.
Closing school sports games to the public for the season is uncommon. On Saturday night, district leaders said they had received complaints about the change and said that the public could attend games.
“I understand that there is much upset and frustration on social media about our decision to reevaluate our procedures and admittance process for winter sports,” Upper Darby Superintendent Daniel P. McGarry said in the statement Saturday night.
In response to the district’s Instagram posts about the new policy, a number of people objected. “This isn’t a story I would be bragging about,” one person commented on a link the district shared to a news story about the changes. “UDSD should be ashamed of this new policy.” Others said that as district taxpayers, they should be able to attend games, and said the district’s policy would hurt athletes.
In the statement, McGarry said the Dec. 17 incident was “embarrassing," and “it is certainly not something we want to represent our school district or community.” He said the district’s plan "is to provide a safe, secure, and positive atmosphere. Members of the public can certainly attend our sporting events, but we have a new process for students and non-students.”
Under the district’s new policy, Upper Darby and visiting teams must submit a list of approved spectators before each game. But the district said in the statement Saturday night that people not on those lists can still attend the games, by purchasing tickets at the gate “with approval by either Upper Darby District personnel or by personnel from the visiting team.”
It wasn’t clear how district personnel would approve people seeking entry. A spokesperson for Upper Darby did not immediately respond to messages Sunday.
Also unclear was which sports the policy governs. The statement issued Saturday refers to “new procedures at school wrestling and boys and girls basketball games,” but goes on to refer to “winter sporting events.” The high school’s winter sports also include cheerleading, indoor track and field, and swimming and diving.
District leaders said the changes stemmed from an altercation in the crowd that interrupted the Dec. 17 Upper Darby-Haverford game. The incident didn’t involve athletes from either team, the district said.
“District security, administration, and police were able to escort those involved out of the building,” according to the district’s statement Saturday. “At the conclusion of the game, the police had to call for assistance from Haverford Township and Lansdowne Borough in order to control altercations that began to break out off of campus.”
The district’s new plan includes “strong visible police presence." It also says the district will have designated seating for students and visitors and will require fans of the opposing team to sit in the visitors’ section.