Re-evaluating security during games

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Graham Rutherford heard about two separate thefts that victimized Redwood Empire sports teams last weekend, it hit close to home. As principal at Cardinal Newman, Rutherford knows what it’s like to feel responsible for the well being of his students and families at sporting events.

He also knows what it’s like to personally lose some valuables.

At the state-championship football game in 2008, Newman had a problem with the bus taking the team from its hotel to the stadium. Bus personnel transferred all the luggage to another bus, and neglected to inform the school. Three bags never made the transition, including Rutherford’s. He lost some eyeglasses and a sweatshirt, among other things.

“I never got it back,” Rutherford said Friday. “I didn’t feel good about it.”

Those feelings were revisited this week when it was revealed that the visitors’ locker room at Analy was riffled through last Friday. At least eight members of the Piner football team had items stolen, including cell phones, iPods and wallets. That same night, someone broke into the Kelseyville bus during a game at Hamilton City High in Glenn County and rounded up a similar list of stolen goods.

Sonoma County school administrators, athletic directors and coaches have been on alert this past week, wondering what else they can do to prevent such thefts.

The level of risk has much to do with the physical layout of a school. At Cardinal Newman, the locker rooms are adjacent to the gym and close to the football field, and buses park in the same area. That makes it easy to patrol.

Not that the system is foolproof. Rutherford said that five years ago, players from a visiting team broke into lockers while the JV football game was being played. With help from an opposing coach, Cardinal Newman was able to apprehend a student with stolen goods in the trunk of his car.

At Windsor, by contrast, the locker rooms are a good distance from the football field. As athletic director Gene Sandwina explained, the school’s solution is to lock up the locker rooms completely during football games; the teams don’t even return during halftime. A sheriff’s deputy is responsible for security at the field, but does not make rounds at the locker room.

Windsor opens up its locker rooms during basketball games, but there are only two doors into the area – one from the gym, one from outside – and the exterior door remains locked.

Making local high-school events 100-percent burglar-proof is a daunting task. Many old lockers have ventilators cut into them, allowing someone with a flashlight to get a peek inside. They aren’t terribly hard to get into. And even some newer lockers can be pried into with a solidly built screwdriver.

“And a school bus?” Rutherford said. “I mean, come on. That seems like it would be the safest place.”

The other part of the equation is getting student-athletes not to put important items in their lockers during games. Administrators would rather they hand over their valuables to a friend or parent while playing. That isn’t a popular request in an era when cell phones and iPods are often treated as bodily extensions.

“We try to discourage our kids from keeping so much with them,” Sandwina said. “But it just isn’t very realistic.”