A group of Hickory High parents, grandparents and friends are upset after they were barred from Tuesday night’s boys’ basketball playoff game at Cox Mill High in Concord, even though media photos showed plenty of seats available on the visitors’ side.
Among those locked out: A father expecting to see his senior son’s last game, a disabled Vietnam veteran “hobbling in” to see a grandson and many others “traversing long distance and traffic obstacles,” retired Air Force Col. Paul Schowalter wrote to the N.C. High School Athletic Association in Raleigh.
Schowalter and his wife, Linda, said they were among at least 25 people denied entry. The couple were there to see their grandson play.
“An egregious violation of sportsmanship rules,” Paul Schowalter said Wednesday.
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Cabarrus County Schools officials said the gym had become too crowded.
“Based on the recommendation of law enforcement, we reached capacity in the Cox Mill High School gym near the end of the first quarter,” the school system said in a statement. “At that time, school officials closed the gym. We regret that fans supporting both teams were not allowed in, but our decision was based on ensuring the safety of the spectators inside.”
The Schowalters’ daughter, Heidi Risser of Charlotte, was already in the gym when her parents texted her about being denied entry.
Her parents and others arrived about 10 minutes after the 7 p.m. start. “People drove from Hickory, High Point, Whitsett and came from jobs that ended at 5,” Linda Schowalter said. “They were caught in construction and 5 o'clock gridlock on I-85.”
“It was very confusing to those of us inside, because there were seats available on the visiting team’s side,” Risser said in an email to the Observer. “We asked the cops to do something, but they said the assistant principal was in charge of this action.
“It was such an unsportsmanlike maneuver to lock out the opponent’s fans, but that is what happened,” Risser said. “It was senseless, unnecessary, and cannot be remedied at this point.”
“Is this the way you want these tournament games run?” her father asked in his letter to the N.C. High School Athletic Association. “Isn’t the home court enough of a competitive advantage? With this egregious violation of your sportsmanship rules, I believe the responsible people should be officially reprimanded and Cox Mill High School not be allowed to host tournament games.”
No one likes it when people are denied entry to a game, and the association will look into the complaints, assistant commissioner James Alverson told the Observer. But the association typically leaves decisions on crowd control to each school, he said. “They’re the ones who know their gyms best,” he said.