Changing times: Violence forces many schools to move their Friday night football game times
Like a lot of parents, Art Bicknell wanted to watch his son David play football on a Friday night. But getting off at 5 p.m., then getting to Boca Raton's field by the normal starting time of 7 p.m. was out of the question since the game started at 4:30 p.m.
"With my schedule, it was tight," said Art Bicknell, an assistant principal at West Boca Raton High. "… A lot of parents don't get out until after 5 o'clock and you could tell that with the crowd."
The time change for that Oct. 30 game against Atlantic was made because of safety concerns stemming from a shooting among fans outside the rivalry game last year. It's that risk of violence that has forced some area teams to sacrifice the glitz of Friday night lights for earlier starting times–and even Saturday games–in the hopes of creating a safer environment.
At least eight schools have moved up individual game starting times the past two seasons while Glades Central moved up almost all of its games this season and will play its annual Muck Bowl game against Pahokee on Saturday, for the second straight year.
The rash of violence started with the shooting death last year of a Pahokee player in Belle Glade, hours after the team's homecoming game. Other events, such as when a crowd fought outside Atlantic's stadium during its game against Boynton Beach in September, have prompted the changes.
And while school officials and coaches agree that safety for fans and players comes first in their decisions, they are aware that pushing up starting times causes a number of inconveniences. Like Bicknell, many parents and friends of players can't get to the games on time. And host schools lose a chunk of gate-receipt money while athletes are forced to play in hotter temperatures. Players also lose the joy of playing in front of big crowds under the lights.
Atlantic coach Andre Thaddies said the earlier starting time meant players had to deal with the heat and humidity on Boca's Astroturf field.
"And for our fans, people would have to leave their jobs and in this economy you can't really afford to take time off," he said.
Boynton Beach High said it lost $4,000 in gate receipts after moving a starting time to 5 p.m. That change was prompted after a crowd fought outside Atlantic's stadium during its game against Boynton on Sept. 18. Boynton principal Keith Oswald decided to move his school's next game, against Santaluces, to 5 p.m. because Atlantic had a bye that week and Oswald was worried that the same troublemakers would show up.
"Everyone I talked to completely understood and we wanted to make sure that the kids could just play football and not have to worry about safety and the fans," he said.
"It's not something I wanted to do because I'm a Friday night guy," Boynton Beach coach Rick Swain said, "but for the safety of all those concerned, it was an administrative move and it was probably a smart one."
When the Atlantic-Boca Raton game time was moved up, the hope was that because the game started an hour after school got out, more students would attend. Boca principal Geoff McKee said that while the crowd was noticeably younger, it was also smaller by 1,000 to 1,500 people compared to last year's meeting.
Glades Central moved up just about all its home games to 6 p.m. Friday this year while the traditional Muck Bowl will be played on a Saturday for just the second time in the 25-year history of the game.
While some schools don't have lights and normally play all their home games under the sun, for schools used to Friday night football, the earlier starting times are different.
"There's something about playing under the lights. …," Retzsch said. "I think it's just too bad it had to be against our biggest rival and in important game. I wish it had been at night."