Citing safety concerns, Upper Darby School District officials on Friday said home games for high school sports teams this winter will not be open to the general public.
The change, which will take effect with Saturday’s boys’ high school basketball game against Conestoga, comes after an altercation at a home basketball game last month involving students from outside Upper Darby, according to district officials.
“To ensure there’s a safe environment for our students, our parents … we wanted to make sure we could control who’s coming and going to our games,” said Upper Darby spokesperson Aaronda Beauford.
One of the region’s larger school districts, Upper Darby enrolls more than 12,500 students. Its teams play in the 12-team Central League.
Only Upper Darby students with district-issued IDs will be allowed to walk up and buy tickets. Before events, both teams will have to submit a list of invited parents and family members, who will be allowed to buy tickets.
Students from the visiting school will have to show photo ID to buy tickets, and the visiting team will be required “to submit a list or have an administrator at the gate to approve the entry of each person,” the district said.
The policy will apply “just for winter sports," Beauford said. Besides basketball, the district’s winter sports includes indoor track and field, swimming and diving, wrestling, and cheerleading, according to its website.
Beauford said Friday that administrators were spurred to act after a “physical altercation” at the Dec. 17 Upper Darby-Haverford Township game. Students from outside the district were arrested, Beauford said.
Asked whether weapons were involved, Beauford said, “Not to our knowledge. It just seemed to be a melee.”
Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Upper Darby’s outgoing mayor, Tom Micozzie, said Friday that he wasn’t aware of the new policy until contacted by a reporter. He said he was surprised by the news, considering he had not been told of any major issues at the school in recent weeks.
“As a taxpayer that lives in this town, I’m a little concerned that we’ve gotten to the point where a rivalry between basketball teams makes it so that you can’t just go through those doors to watch a game,” he said.
Micozzie said that he recalled a police officer’s responding to a scuffle during the Haverford Township game, but said the incident wasn’t serious and didn’t require further attention. Similar incidents happened during football season at the high school, but were handled by the police department and didn’t require a change in attendance policy, he said.
“If we’re being that restrictive, I don’t think that’s a good policy. If they’re that worried about it … pay a cop along with the security,” Micozzie said. “I think our citizens pay enough taxes in this district they should be able to go see a game, especially if it’s a rivalry.”
Administrators made the change after an emergency conference call with the school board, Beauford said.
“We just decided the best way to control” potential problems “would be to know who’s there,” she said.
Closing scholastic sporting events to the public is not common. Although some Pennsylvania districts have restricted public access during particular games, “I can’t say I’ve heard” of a district doing so for an entire season, said Melissa Mertz, associate executive director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
School districts do not need the association’s approval to take such a step.