We've all heard the stories about unruly players, parents and fans at high school and youth sporting events. Unfortunately one of the latest examples happened here in the stands of the Andover High School gym.
It was there two weeks ago Friday that Keith Sullivan, chairman of the Tewksbury School Committee, was watching a boys basketball game in a crowd that was apparently agitated and vocal.
Andover police Officer Kyle Kiberd described large groups of Andover youths in the stands “shouting at another large group of youths” on the visitor’s side, presumably from Tewksbury. And it wasn't a rollicking round of “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit, how about you?” but something more like the outfield bleachers at Fenway Park when the Red Sox are losing. Kiberd noted in his report the students were “yelling profanities across the gym at each other.”
Against this backdrop two men, one of them Sullivan, approached Kiberd about losing their jackets in a group of Andover students, the officer reported. Kiberd spoke with Andover Athletic Director William Martin, who saw to it that the jackets were returned but who also suggested the men sit with the other visitors so as not to inflame the situation. According to Kiberd’s report, Sullivan did not want to leave his spot, even when told he would be arrested for trespassing if he refused.
A Lawrence District Court judge last week ordered Sullivan to stay away from Andover schools, according to reporter Jill Harmacinski’s account. His next hearing on the trespassing charge is in March. The Lowell Sun reports he has declined to talk about what happened, leaving us to take Kiberd’s report at face value.
If accurate, Sullivan was clearly the target of unruly, unsportsmanlike behavior by Andover youths who should be ashamed of their actions. Still, if Kiberd’s account is true, Sullivan wasn’t exactly helpful as Martin and Kiberd tried to diffuse matters, which is more disappointing given his leadership role in his community.
Crowds can be scary, especially when passions lead to group behavior that no individual would condone (like shouting profanities across a high school gym). On the sidelines and in the stands, especially at high school and youth sporting events, it’s up to adults to provide models of what’s acceptable. It’s even more important when tensions run high, as they did the other night in Andover.