OAKLAND — Citing "continued conflicts between rival high school students" and a Thursday afternoon shooting near McClymonds High School, the Oakland school district took an unusual step last week: It canceled a Friday night basketball game at McClymonds against Oakland High.
For Brandon Brooks, who played for the McClymonds Warriors before becoming the program's head coach, this was a first. He was born and raised in West Oakland, he said, and no matter what was happening in the neighborhood, "The game still went on."
Not anymore. Security at Oakland's big high school events has been stepped up in recent weeks, apparently in response to violence — and threats of violence — between gangs or rival neighborhood groups. Managed by the school district's own police force, the operation involves intelligence gathering, "control points," pat-downs, security cameras and metal detection wands. No purses or backpacks are allowed inside.
In January, police caught wind of an impending conflict at Oakland Technical High School before a basketball game against McClymonds. When the McClymonds team arrived at the North Oakland high school, they saw the squad cars. The police van. The security officers waiting to escort them from the bus to the locker room.
"You'd think that the president was there that night, there were so many police officers that were there," Brooks said.
Other East Bay high schools take safety measures at games, though not to the extent Oakland does. El Cerrito High School recently announced it would use metal detection wands at basketball games that draw large crowds, and police officers are common at big games in West Contra Costa County. In 2005, spectators were barred from a football game at De Anza High School in El Sobrante because of violence at the school; the game also had been postponed.
It's not that the events themselves are dangerous; quite the opposite, said the Oakland school district's new police chief, Peter Sarna II. But in a city where shootings and turf wars are commonplace, crowds of teenagers converging from different neighborhoods present an opportunity for trouble.
In December 2007, three Oakland students were shot and wounded, apparently by a nonstudent, outside the McClymonds gym after a basketball game. In response, the Police Department's former chief briefly imposed a backpack and purse ban, a rule that Sarna reinstated last month.
Sarna, a former Oakland police lieutenant, once managed the department's gang unit. Before he was hired in June to lead the school district's force, he developed security protocols for the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. He said he might deploy eight police officers and a sergeant to a high school event, in addition to four school security officers, if he catches wind of a safety threat.
Golden State Warriors games have a smaller police presence for an arena that seats 19,500.
Game security costs the Oakland school district about $175,000 a year, including $65,000 to have police officers at basketball and football games, according to estimates from Sarna and the Oakland Athletic League commissioner.
"We want our schools to be a safe haven for kids to enjoy their youth," said Laura Moran, the school district's chief services officer. "It does mean that the school district has to spend some of the money that should go to student learning to protect our students."
It's not just athletic events that are subject to security protocols. Oakland schools must check with the Police Department before scheduling dances on campus — though most schools no longer hold them, in part because they can't afford to pay security officers overtime, Moran said.
Alicia Romero, the new principal of Oakland High, said the school held a Winter Ball in a small, off-campus venue this year. Students who wanted to bring a date from another school, she said, needed to fax a form to their dates' schools, asking for their GPAs and proof of good behavior.
Romero made those remarks at a recent matchup between Oakland High School and Fremont High, which was staffed by seven police officers, including the chief, and four security guards. She said she is adamant that school administrators supervise each game, regardless of the number of officers present.
"We're the ones who know the kids," she said.
The Oakland High-Fremont game was low-key, drawing a medium-sized crowd. The Oakland Tech-McClymonds event two weeks earlier, however, was a different story. Despite the pregame intelligence and heightened security, a fight broke out in the street outside Oakland Tech after the game. Police stepped in before anyone was seriously hurt.
Among the teenagers arrested was a 16-year-old McClymonds student with a loaded gun. He had been barred from the game, Sarna said, because he had caused trouble before.
Brooks didn't see the fight; he and his players had been told to remain in the locker room for 30 minutes after the buzzer, until the crowd had dispersed.
Another matchup between the two teams is scheduled for Tuesday at McClymonds. Oakland school district spokesman Troy Flint said it was still on as of Friday afternoon. The district's Police Department later could decide to postpone that game as well, Flint said, or to hold it at a neutral site.
"There must be something we don't know," Brooks said. "It just mystifies me."
Brooks said he appreciates the better-safe-than-sorry mentality. One of the students injured in the December 2007 shooting at his West Oakland school was Barry Bell, now a team captain.
For that reason, he said, he wishes he knew more about the threats that prompted school officials to postpone Friday's game and whether his team is involved. He figures his players are at greater risk walking to and from school, without police protection, than they would be in the gym.
"If my kids are in danger, I need to let them know," he said.
A security officer, center, uses a metal detector to screen fans
as they arrive Friday for a basketball game between teams from Oakland High and Fremont High in Oakland.