12:45 p.m. This article has been updated with comments from WHS principal Robert O’Donnell.
BREAKING NEWS: January 28, 2016—Last Tuesday evening, Jan. 26, the Wilton High School boys’ varsity basketball team won a decisive victory over Ridgefield 51-39. However, events off the court might mar the way the community will savor that victory.
Reports of pregame threats and online taunting by students at both schools have been compounded by police confirmation that, following the game, at least two Ridgefield students were arrested for trespassing, and a third—a juvenile—is being investigated for a case related to the trespass and involving narcotics.
“We cited two 18-year-olds who reside in Ridgefield for criminal trespass, and a third individual, a juvenile, it’s an open investigation right now,” said Lt. Stephen Brennan, public information officer for Wilton Police. He declined to give names of the individuals who were charged until the full report is completed and the news releases are published.
GOOD Morning Wilton received several messages and emails from parents of students who attended the game to say that following the game a Wilton student was attacked and punched in the parking lot by a student from Ridgefield. Brennan confirmed that there was an additional, separate incident.
“There was an altercation in the parking lot, and the police investigated. However, the victim does not wish to pursue criminal charges at this time.”
WHS principal Bob O’Donnell also confirmed what happened. “I have no information right now that any Wilton High School students were arrested or were involved in any police matters.”
He agreed that it was a shame that the post-game events might have cast a shadow on the efforts exerted by the teams on the court.
“Our student athletes play hard, their athletes play hard, it was a good game. It was a well-managed game, it was all about school spirit in there. Our kids had a lot of fun; our kids had a ‘white-out’ going on. It is very unfortunate, and it only takes a couple, these incidents afterward that can mar an otherwise good experience. It’s unfortunate,” he said. “Some kids just went too far.”
Ridgefield is widely regarded as Wilton’s rival in athletic competitions. This game was a highly anticipated one, and the number of students and spectators attending in support of Wilton was remarked upon by sports reporters following the game. The Ruden Report listed the night’s Wilton fans among their three “best student sections this year”:
Best student sections this year:
1. Darien & New Canaan, Turkey Bowl
2. Greenwich football vs. New Canaan
3. Wilton boys basketball tonight
— Dave Ruden (@DaveRuden) January 27, 2016
Fan pride was definitely at a high:
Several parents also reported the existence of a Facebook event page with followers from both towns’ high schools. The page shows posts from students with taunts, and reportedly contained threats before the game that alerted school and town authorities to the threat of possible disputes.
O’Donnell said administrators were aware of the Facebook page before the game, and they worked with their colleagues in the Ridgefield Public Schools to address it ahead of time as best as possible.
“They worked with some of their students and we worked with some of our students who were involved to just try to say, ‘Let’s tone this down and focus on the basketball game. Let’s make it about healthy, productive, interscholastic high school athletics. Let’s focus on the game and not what we want to say to denigrate any of our high schoolers in the neighboring district.”
While witnesses reported what they believed to be “heavy police presence” at the game, WPD’s Brennan said there was only one additional officer assigned to cover the game.
“Typically you have two police officers but we had three officers working this detail. It may have been patrol that was called in afterwards. Typically at the completion of a football game or any big activity, we always have the patrol sergeant and nearby patrols swing through to help with the traffic, crowds and to be on site for anything that’s necessary, in case someone needs help or to ask questions,” Brennan explained.
While the police department typically doesn’t increase the number of officers at games because of any perceived rivalry, Brennan said that there was an expectation of a larger crowd that did impact the assignment of officers.
“We used to increase but we haven’t had a need for that. But because of the proximity of the two schools and knowing that there would be more individuals attending, they increased the officers’ assignment by one.”
O’Donnell said there was an effort to increase staff presence at the game.
“We certainly had the game well-staffed, both from a police presence standpoint and a Wilton High School supervisory standpoint.”