'Everyone loses': York City schools cancel games, boost security after social media tension

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch

The York City School District postponed two boys' basketball games and increased security for two girls' games on Saturday, Jan. 26, because of security concerns. 

The security risks are "external issues," and the district is not releasing details of the situation, said Chief of School Police Michael Muldrow. 

The issue stems from social media tension that escalated to a fight after a boys' basketball game in Harrisburg between York High and Harrisburg High on Wednesday, Jan. 23. 

Saturday's boys' JV and varsity basketball games between York High, formally known as William Penn Senior High School, and Chester Upland in York were postponed. The district is working with Chester Upland to reschedule games in the near future, according to a district announcement. 

The girls' JV and varsity teams played Lancaster Mennonite at noon and 1:30 p.m., respectively. Security was increased at the girls' games, limiting spectators and increasing the staff on hand, Muldrow said. 

From left, York High Hall Monitor Kelvin Harrison, left, stands by as Coleen Hurst, of Lancaster City, passes through the metal detector and York City School Police Officer Ori Rivera, right, looks on while screening attendants as they arrive for the girls' basketball games at the school in York City, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. Because of "safety and security concerns," the boys games against Chester, that were also scheduled for Saturday, have been postponed. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Increased threat level: Only players' guardians and staff for both York and Lancaster's teams were allowed in during the game. The teams had to provide security officials with a list of who would be attending, and IDs were checked at three points of entry. 

The district typically operates under a yellow threat level, Muldrow said. Because of recent concerns, it was raised to a red threat level. The district evaluated different options to determine the safest way to proceed, he said. 

"We never want to disrupt the normal flow," he said. "Kids that are playing all year look forward to this."

The district, however, has to make choices for the students' best interests, he said. 

The fight: A fight had broke out at Harrisburg High School on Wednesday, Jan. 23 after the game between York High and and Harrisburg High, according to Harrisburg police. 

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Police said the fight happened among a large group of people, and officers had to use pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

Harrisburg School District had requested officers to be at the game because  social media activity had indicated an issue may arise, according to a police  news release. 

'Facebook punks': The issue stems from a longstanding rivalry between the two districts and had been brewing on social media for months, said George Fitch, a York City School District administrator.

"It's a shame because you have a lot of Facebook punks that really have no affiliation to the game and cause a raucous," he said. 

Fitch is the administrator for the school district's Cornerstone program. He also has two daughters, a sophomore and senior, who  play for the school. 

The social media tension and subsequent fighting typically doesn't involve the athletes, Fitch said. Many of the players know each other and play on the same teams in summer programs, he added.

In the end, it ends up hurting the community and players, Fitch said. 

One of his daughters just turned 16, Fitch said, adding she was excited to have everyone come out and watch her play. Because of the security concerns, that couldn't happen. 

Security turned away groups of people, both from York and Lancaster, who were not on the provided lists. 

"While I understand what the administration has to go through, it's just sad because everyone loses. Whether it's the parents that come out and see it, the fans that want to see it — even the players, because they would like to be cheered on by a large crowd," Fitch said. 

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The school district evaluates security concerns on a circumstantial basis, and at this time does not believe Saturday's concerns will impact future games or regular school hours, Muldrow said. 

The district anticipates being under typical security protocol by the next game, he said. the York High boys play Tuesday at South Western. The Bearcats' next home game is Wednesday against William Allen High School.

The district will continue to keep an eye on the situation, as it does with all other security risks, he said. 

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at rklar@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_