Basketball brawl sparks talk about safety, sportsmanship

This still frame from a YouTube video posted by The Times shows some of the brawl. (Video by the Times)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A brawl between two Indiana high school basketball teams left parents and administrators shocked, but they were not surprised when they learned about the punishment each team would face.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association cancelled the rest of the season for the boys’ basketball teams at Griffin and Hammond High School. Last weekend, a hard foul led to a bench clearing brawl.

Bob Wonnell, the athletic director at Arlington High School in Indianapolis, said he’s seen fights like that before.

That’s why he feels it’ll take a team effort from the coaches, the players, fans and staff to keep things from getting out of control.

“It was bad, I mean I was surprised that it got so bad so quickly,” said Wonnell talking about the fight.

He saw the video, and wasn’t surprised to hear the IHSAA punished Griffith and Hammond High School by cancelling the rest of their seasons.

“It’s a very strict consequence but it’s a very well deserved consequence so I think the IHSAA is setting the right precedent in setting their foot down.”

One parent in the stands told 24-Hour News 8 they understand why their seasons were cancelled but felt it was unfair to punish all of the players if only some might have been at fault.

“If there were five kids that behaved in a way that warranted a season ending suspension, fine,” said Trey Oetjen. “But there were JV kids, there was freshman kids who could have come up, fulfilled those responsibilities. If they all 12 behaved that way, then the team deserves collective discipline.”

Oetjen not only saw video of the fight but said he witnessed one in person years ago at an AAU tournament.

“Another team went crazy and just started, incited an entire brawl. So I can tell you that my response because it was then was to get my kids out of the gym as fast as we could,” he said.

At Arlington, Wonnell said two police officers monitor all varsity and JV games. Administrators also sit by the doors and near the stands just in case people might rush the floor.

“Even when those things are in place, there is the capability or the possibility that things can go bad like it did the other night,” said Wonnell.

But prevention can go back even further. Wonnell said coaches undergo sportsmanship training before and during the season to make sure their players know how to keep a cool head with competition gets heated.

“That’s about the best we can do. Just try to prepare ahead and make sure that we have people in place,” said Wonnell.

Wonnell said starting next year, every coach will be mandated to take sportsmanship training. Besides getting their seasons cancelled – Hammon and Griffith high school have to pay a $500 forfeiture fee. Police said they’re reviewing the video to see if any charges should be filed.

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