For high school athletic directors, Friday night football games usually involve making sure fan behavior is good, the visiting team is accommodated and order is kept so spectators have an enjoyable experience.
Recently, they also had a greater responsibility of public safety.
Bad weather in the region brought lightning during many area games on Sept. 7.
For example, Seymour’s home game against Floyd Central screeched to a halt with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter when sky-to-ground lightning flashed — 13 miles away. After a 20-minute wait, the game was ruled complete, with the Owls a 42-27 winner as the storm cell grew closer.
And at Salem, where the host Lions trailed the Brownstown Central Braves, officials stopped the game with 9:59 to go in the fourth quarter. Again, after a brief wait (Indiana High School Athletic Association rules require a 30-minute wait after the last lightning strike spotted), officials ruled the game complete. Brownstown went home with a 31-7 win.
When the well-being of athletes, team personnel and the fans is at risk, there is no other primary consideration than safety. The schools’ administrators made sound decisions in deciding to end play that night. It’s also notable that they didn’t wait hours to end the games, hoping to finish the contests while making everyone endure the bad weather.
Brandon Harpe, athletic director at Seymour, said ADs and coaches from both schools huddled with the head official in deciding to end the game.
Did last spring’s lightning strike during an Owls’ girls softball practice that sent four athletes to the hospital enter Harpe’s mind Friday night? You bet it did.
“We always want to be safe, but that changed us forever, I think,” Harpe said. “That was a scary day. We would have made the same call on the football game, but that incident was in my mind.”
The press box at Bulleit Stadium must have looked like storm central on the Weather Channel. Harpe’s attention was fixed on a computer with four screens monitoring various radar sweeps of the region and another screen that tracked lightning strikes.
The sky-to-ground lightning that brought the game to a stop occurred 13 miles away.
“The National Federation of High School Associations guidelines recommend stopping activity when one is seen 10 miles away, but we decided to play it safe,” Harpe said. “That’s when we decided to shut it down.”
The level of collaboration and regard for public safety demonstrated by the schools that night is to be commended.
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