Gunshots fired close to Richmond High School on Friday night put an abrupt end to the school’s homecoming dance and football game against the Kennedy Eagles.
Eight minutes were left in the game and the Eagles were up 16-6 when a gun was fired near 23rd and Maricopa, a stone’s throw from school grounds. Police stationed at the school for the game responded immediately, but by the time they got to the scene, everyone had scattered, Lt. Michael Booker said. No one was hurt. No suspects were apprehended.
While police were securing the street outside the school, Booker said an altercation started in the bleachers. At that point, Booker made the decision to shut down the game and started evacuating spectators and both teams from the field — postponing either team’s chance at snagging the second annual Greenwood Trophy.
“It’s hooligans going crazy,” said Jorge Diaz, a senior who plays for the Richmond Oilers. “They can’t let us have this night and win this game.”
Soon after the field was evacuated, police decided to stop the homecoming dance as well — a disappointment to the students who had just arrived, dressed up in their finest high heels and collared shirts. Students were held inside the gym until their parents arrived to escort them off school property.
The rivalry between the two schools had been in the air and a few scuffles had broken out earlier in the evening, distracting fans in the bleachers. There was no shortage of security at the game, with officers from the Richmond Police Department, Bay Area Peacekeepers, private security officers and probation officers stationed everywhere.
“Rival teams, you know, it’s a North and South thing,” Booker said just after halftime, before shots were fired. “Better to be prepared.”
Booker said that before the game, police had received vague information indicating that they should be alert.
The game’s sudden stop was a big letdown to Tra’von Clay, who scored the Oilers’ only touchdown of the night and helped bring the team to their first win in nearly two seasons last week.
Like the police, the players had a notion that things could get out of hand. “I didn’t think it would happen during the game,” Clay said. “I thought it was gonna happen after the game.”
Tension between North and South Richmond was not excluded to the sidelines. Players felt the competition — penalty flags were pulled left and right, including several for bad sportsmanship. But on the field, it was a healthy rivalry, Clay said. Players from both teams knew each other and many had been playing together since they were young.
“Rivalry, it’s rough,” said Joe McCoy, who coaches Pop Warner with Michael Catlett. Both were standing in the bleachers watching the kids they coached since age 9 go head to head on the field in the second quarter.
“They pretty much all grow up in this city together,” Catlett said.
In a talk to the Oilers before the game, head coach Tashaka Merriweather told his team, “I will say this much: I’m proud of you guys for sticking together. Nobody saw us beating Albany last week. I think we became a family because of that. This is another opportunity to show them what we’re about.”
The Eagles started off strong with a quick touchdown followed by a two-point conversion in the first quarter. Penalty flag after penalty flag stalled both teams, but didn’t prevent the Eagles from finishing off the first half of the game well in the lead at 16-0.
The Oilers were quiet in the locker room at halftime.
“Take a second to chill out and get your mind right,” Merriweather said. “We’re gonna win it, all right? Everyone has to get hungry. We’re going to live to fight another play and get a turnover.”
Player Deshawn Clark was hopeful, too. “We started on a bad note, but I think we might turn this game around,” he said.
As if to echo his words, Clay ran over 50 yards to score a touchdown for the Oilers at the top of the third quarter, bringing the score to 16-6. Midway through the fourth quarter, it was still was anyone’s game.
Then shots rang out, yelling broke out in the stands, and police started evacuating.
“It ain’t safe. I’m so nervous,” said Dolores Brown, mother of two Kennedy players, while she was walking off the field behind the team. “People should be able to come out and meet and learn from one another. I don’t think some of these kids got parents. It’s sad. But it’s not everyone’s fault. Something needs to be done. It’s crazy.”