Starting with tonight’s junior varsity football games and continuing with Friday’s varsity action, two public safety officers will be on the field during the traditional handshake at all contests in Richmond County. Then, each officer will follow each team to its respective locker room.
These two procedures were added to a four-pronged policy which already included the following: players must leave their helmets on during the handshake, coaches must position themselves at the front and end of the lines, cheerleaders are not allowed in the handshake line and the stadium custodians must ensure all locker rooms are open.
“When things like this happen, you look at your policy and see what you can do to prevent something like this from happening,” Richmond County athletics director George Bailey said. “You realize there’s always a possibility.”
That possibility occurred when Warren County head football coach David Daniel was struck in the head with a helmet by a Hancock Central player following his team’s 21-2 win in Sparta, Ga. Still healing at home — and watching game film — Daniel issued a statement about Friday night’s attack.
“To the Warren County family, the support and concern for me and my family has been overwhelming. It is my hope that you will continue to help our football team to focus on being competitive with our upcoming football game. Additionally, with everyone’s support, our team will continue their hard work ethic along with exhibiting good sportsmanship. Go Warren County, and let’s have a great homecoming.”
Warren County Schools Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said she received the statement Tuesday night from her husband, Dewey, who took over game film to Daniel.
Attempts to talk with Hancock Central head football coach Zackery Harris and Gwendolyn Jefferson Reeves, the Hancock County superintendent, have been unsuccessful.
Carey also said a letter on behalf of the Warren County Board of Education, the mayor, state Sen. Bill Jackson and herself would be sent no later than Thursday to officials who can ask the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to step in, including the Superior Court judge with jurisdiction. Carey said they’re getting copies of all statements from team members and coaches.
Ralph Swearngin, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association, said the GHSA has received at least preliminary reports from both Warren County and Hancock Central, but he said he’s asked for additional information. Swearngin also said the GHSA has been in contact with the Hancock County Sheriff's Department, and he wants a police report.
As for any potential changes to security guidelines, Swearngin said any specific numerical expectations for security would have to come from the GHSA Executive Committee.
With different school sizes and attendance levels at sporting events, it’s difficult to write a precise guideline for everybody, he said. However, he said local school boards have their own policies, even regarding the number of security people assigned to a game. In Richmond County, anywhere from eight to 20 security officers staff a game based on projected crowd size.
“My guess, about any situation, is the problem is not with the standards,” Swearngin said. “It would be with the failure to complete those standards.”