2018 Salt Bowl Ends in Chaos

School examines safety and security at football games after incident

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2018 Salt Bowl Ends in Chaos

Reunited with her mother, Melissa Boswell, senior Sydney Boswell cries after the chaos at the Salt Bowl Aug. 25.

Reunited with her mother, Melissa Boswell, senior Sydney Boswell cries after the chaos at the Salt Bowl Aug. 25.

Josie Roach

Reunited with her mother, Melissa Boswell, senior Sydney Boswell cries after the chaos at the Salt Bowl Aug. 25.

Josie Roach

Josie Roach

Reunited with her mother, Melissa Boswell, senior Sydney Boswell cries after the chaos at the Salt Bowl Aug. 25.

Rosemary Gregg, Emily Hall, Max Preuninger, Editors

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The letters of the Hornet Spell Out chant echoed through the stands as Hornet wide receiver Josh Robinson scored a touchdown early in the third quarter of the 2018 Salt Bowl Aug. 25, bringing the score to 28-14 with 11:33 left. Tens of thousands of committed fans packed the bleachers like sardines, adding to the humid heat of summer in Arkansas.

New and old fans alike cheered for their teams, entranced by the energy and anticipation that filled War Memorial Stadium. Band students flooded the concourse and concession stand lines after their halftime performance, while the football team continued to expand a lead over the Benton Panthers.

Just a few minutes later, people rushed into the bleachers after hearing loud noises in the concourse, screaming, “Gun!” and “He has a gun!” provoking panic in a crowd of 38,000 people. Shouts and cries of terror added to the deafening shaking of bleachers, where people were running, jumping over barricades and dropping to the ground trying to seek safety.

Football players covered children and carried the disabled, parents guided students that were not their own to safety and the rivalry between Benton and Bryant evaporated in the heat as the football holiday became a nightmare.

In the student section, senior Malori Pendergrass was enjoying the game with her friends until she saw people running and felt the stands rattling. After several minutes of staying on the ground, she stood up to make sure everyone was okay and then jumped over the railing onto the field.

“I jump[ed] over the railing, falling into the arms of someone I didn’t even know,” Pendergrass said. “[I looked] to my left and right and see my best friends in tears with nothing but fear in their eyes. [It was] the most surreal feeling of my life.”

Pendergrass was being comforted by senior Logan Chambers.

“I then [looked] up to see [him] crouched down in front of me, comforting me and protecting me,” Pendergrass said. “I had never experienced such a horrible feeling in my life.”

Like Pendergrass, senior Jake Dreher was also in the student section. When people began running, Dreher stressed while trying to find his family, specifically his 14-year-old brother, who was pushed out of the stadium in the crowd. A Bryant football player ran over to him, asking if he was okay.

“He was there until I heard he was safe,” Dreher said. “[Then he] ran to help others.”

Dreher says that Saline County came together at the Salt Bowl, and now everyone can know how “great [of a] county we’ve always been.”

“Hornets were standing over our students during the chaos,” Dreher said. “Hornets were carrying children, searching for their parents and offering their gear as well. Big salute to both the Panthers and Hornets for remaining the center of our attention during chaos on and off the field.”

Moments before the stadium broke out into chaos, senior Andrea Thomas had just visited with her mother at the top of the stands, asking for seven dollars for a chicken basket. When she entered the concourse, fans began shoving her after she heard someone yell about a gun.

“I was shook, because there’s too much stuff going on nowadays,” Thomas said. “If somebody tells me that somebody’s got a gun, I’m gonna be gone. You can’t just sit down and be like ‘Nah, they’re just playing.’”

Thinking someone had a gun in the stands, Thomas searched for her mother. She began to panic as she wouldn’t answer her texts or calls.

“It was just horrific,” Thomas said. “Seeing little kids running around crying and parents holding their kids, you just don’t know. That could’ve really been worse.”

Thomas began to have a panic attack when she couldn’t find her mother, and it led to a mild seizure. While she was unconscious, her mother was located and reunited with her. Thomas woke back up on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, and she was conscious, but unable to respond.

“When we would hit a bump, [my arm] would just fall,” Thomas said. “I couldn’t feel anything–I didn’t know how to feel. They would ask me to talk, but I couldn’t. When they had to look in my mouth, they had to pry it open.”

When Thomas became responsive again, she says she was ready to go home, but was not able to because she still had tests to do. Thomas had to go through EKGs and x-rays to find that she had bruised tissues and stressed joints in her chest from the pressure of compressions when paramedics were trying to revive her.

“It’s feeling better,” Thomas said. “I’ve just been short of breath. [Legacy band] rehearsals are still rough, because it’s hard for me to take deep breaths still.”

Upon returning to school, Thomas says that she thought people were unfairly judging the way people at the Salt Bowl responded to the chaos, especially football players.

“I don’t think it’s fair to football players–Benton or Bryant–to be judging them,” Thomas said. “They’re students just like us, and they ran just like we did. They hid, they got on the ground, just like we did, and that’s just wrong for people to bash anybody.”

Another Legacy of Bryant member, junior Hayden Chipman, was on break during the third quarter, eating nachos in the stands with his girlfriend, junior Reagan Bingaman. When he saw people running, he and Bingaman ran to the other side of the stadium with Bingaman’s brother and mother.

“I was pretty horrified,” Chipman said. “I was scared for my life, and I was scared for other people as well. I was worried about my sisters.”

Chipman first tried to contact his dad, band director Jay Chipman, but he did not answer. Then he tried to call his mom, but he could not hear her because of how loud the stadium was.

“I was holding one ear and everything, and I still couldn’t hear her,” Hayden Chipman said. “I wanted her to know that I was okay so that she wouldn’t be worried.”

Chipman and Bingaman did not return to the band section until a remind message from Jay Chipman came through at 9:16 p.m. asking all high school band members to please return to their section. When Hayden Chipman returned to the stands, he was reunited with his younger sisters and drumline members, joining them in a group hug.

“I felt more calm,” Hayden Chipman said. “I felt like we were all one big family, like we were always there for each other.”

Before War Memorial Stadium erupted in panic, high school band and percussion director Jay Chipman says he was most looking forward to the excitement of two communities and band programs coming together, even though the day was hot.

“We finished halftime with one of the best Salt Bowl performances I’ve ever experienced,” Jay Chipman said. “I was incredibly proud of percussion and how well the two schools played together.”

As a director, Jay Chipman was startled when people began rushing through the stands, but he did not lose sight of the students’ safety. As people ran, he guided people to stay down, because it was unclear where the danger was coming from.

“I knew I needed to keep [the students] safe,” Jay Chipman said. “But I also knew that them running in any direction could’ve been dangerous. I just calmly guided them to get down and stay still.”

However, Jay Chipman was accompanied by his wife, son and two daughters at the game. While Hayden had taken off into the crowd, his wife was with the youngest daughter and an aunt had the oldest daughter near the concourse.

“I was terrified that I might lose one of them that night,” Jay Chipman said. “My first instinct was that Hayden was street smart. I knew that he would try to protect those around him and think of himself last.”

When a second rush of running started, non-band students began running through the band stands, knocking over and damaging instruments. Jay Chipman says that one was more scary, and the amount of screaming added to the danger.

“When I caught [assistant principals] Mrs. [Leah] Garner and Mr. [Joseph] Albritton heading my way, I knew I had some extra hands,” Jay Chipman said. “At this point, everyone I could see was lying down, and the running had ceased.”

Unlike the scene at War Memorial, Jay Chipman says the return to school was “amazingly peaceful,” even though a few students were still shaken up. Most of the students were just upset that their instruments were damaged.

“I’m really proud of my band students,” Chipman said.

While other students were in the stands, Prospective Newspaper photo editor senior Sydney Boswell was on the field, taking photos. When people began running, she first thought that there was something interesting to shoot, but was soon pushed up against the wall for protection by cheer coach Karen Scarlett. She started running a few seconds later, but then started to panic and get dizzy.

“Three cheerleaders were helping me run, because I couldn’t run anymore,” Boswell said. “I remember leaning against number 77 [senior Mitchell Jones] just to get me able to stand up while we were leaving.”

Cheerleaders Lauren Burnett and Cambrie Blew stayed by her side to help her remain standing, even after leaving the stadium. Boswell made it to the parking lot across the street from UAMS, and football and baseball Coach Travis Queck saw her and helped reunite her with her parents.

“Even after I knew everything was okay, I was still terrified to go back into the stadium,” Boswell said.

The football players remained somewhat oblivious as pandemonium set in among the people in the bleachers; however, when they saw their family and friends running in terror, they could not just stand around and watch. Senior Hornet running back LaTavion Scott immediately took control of the situation. After shielding two young girls with his football pads, Scott escaped the stadium to look for safety. He felt called to help a man he saw in the distance.

“I saw this lady trying to help this disabled man, and she was struggling so bad,” Scott said. “He was trying to move, but he wasn’t going anywhere. At that point, my heart just told me that I have to go help, so I threw him over my shoulder and carried him to the zoo.”

Scott sees putting others before himself as his responsibility rather than an act to be praised.

“I was trying to make sure people were okay before I was, because I feel like everybody should be good before I am,” Scott said. “That’s how you be a good person.”

Zac Bradley is a friend of the disabled man, who was later identified as former J.A. Fair football player Neiko “Kwik” Tolbert. In search of the player that saved his closest friend, Bradley posted to Facebook asking for Scott’s contact information because he wanted to reach out and thank him.

“This friend is an incredibly special person, not just to me but to anyone who has met him,” Bradley said. “LaTavion Scott stopped to help us. We were nearly at the entrance of the zoo, when he picked up my friend Neiko and carried him to the safe place we had found. I look forward to thanking him in person.”

While fear coursed through players and friends, junior Tanner Wilson did not run, but instead helped anyone he saw that needed him. On social media, senior Alex Rabon recognized Wilson for the compassion he showed.

“I have never seen one person act more heroically than Tanner Wilson,” Rabon tweeted. “In the middle of a riot, he was grabbing little kids from the stands and laying them down on the field, covering them. People who acted like this last night are what is right with this community.”

Both teams eventually made their way back to their respective locker rooms. After an hour and a half of waiting and discussing the course of events, the game had been cancelled. The score of the game was stopped at at 27-14 with Bryant in the lead, so the trophy and win was presented to the Bryant football team. After the safety of everyone involved was secured, the Bryant football team celebrated their win in the locker room, which sparked some criticism after photos of players celebrating were posted on social media.

“After everything was all right and they told us what happened, I was happy,” Scott said. “After I found out no one was seriously hurt, I was turning up with my brothers in the locker room. I was proud of all my brothers and I was proud of everyone that helped.”

Many of the players intended on finishing the game and were upset about it getting cut short, but they were still proud of their win and the game they had played. Most importantly, they celebrated the safety of everyone there. Many parents and fans thanked the football players. Leah Montoya, the mother of junior football player Avery Montoya, wrote a Facebook post appreciating the football players during the time of adversity.

“As a mom, part of me thought, ‘Oh my god, you should be taking cover and making sure you are safe,’ and the other part of me thought, ‘What great men they have become, that they would be that selfless,’” Montoya said.

Superintendent Dr. Karen Walters was on the field, sitting on the north end zone, when the chaos began at the game.

“The beginning of the game was great,” Walters said. “We raised a record number of peanut butter for the [food] drive. After the incident, it was a lot of not really knowing what was going on. It was very scary. I heard something behind me, and that’s when I looked around and saw all of the people running. At first, I had no idea what was going on. I stayed on the field and tried to call people who might know what was going on.”

Walters is grateful for the bravery that students showed on the field, especially football players who protected students by putting their own helmets on them.

“It shows a lot about their characters to put others before themselves,” Walters said. “[They’re] heroes and I think their families think so also.”

In order to help students during the incident, three administrators went to Gate 10 at War Memorial to help reunite students with their families. Meanwhile, Elementary Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Pam Kenney assisted kids by helping to calm them down.

Dr. Mike Skelton, the superintendent of Benton Schools, made the initial decision to cancel the Salt Bowl. Bryant administrators also got together and agreed with his decision. The cancellation was decided after a second rush of people ran out of the concourse area and onto the field. Bryant and Benton administrators also realized that they were missing several football players, who were in various locations inside and outside the stadium taking cover.

Administrators met Sunday morning, Aug. 26 to discuss safety and security in the future, as well as how to best help students on Monday morning. The band directors, journalism adviser and football coaches were given the opportunity to talk to their students first thing Monday morning, Aug. 27.

“We wanted kids to talk about how they feel, but I think something everyone should understand is that not everybody was at the Salt Bowl,” Walters said. “You’ve got people in the room that weren’t there and didn’t experience that. It’s not healthy to continue to talk about those things, and then also for those students that weren’t there, it’s upsetting to them as well. We wanted the kids who needed to talk to be able to go talk to someone, but another thing that counselors tell us is to keep things as normal as possible for students.”

In regards to administration’s decision to not allow students to recount their experiences at the Salt Bowl in class Mon. Aug. 27, junior Wynter Wyeth decided to write a letter to Walters explaining her concerns.

“We did exactly what we were taught to do, which was run or help,” Wyeth wrote. “All night, I was flooded with texts asking if I am okay. For many reasons beyond these ones, I was proud; however, when I came to school, I was ashamed [that we were not allowed to discuss our experiences].”

Wyeth understands that on Bryant’s darkest days, the school administration, teachers and students will collectively support each other. However, she feels that students had the right to speak to other classmates and their teachers about Saturday night’s Salt Bowl.

“Every year since kindergarten, we have asked on Monday, ‘How was the Salt Bowl?’ But now that something traumatizing and uncomfortable to talk about happens… we cannot speak and our teachers cannot ask.”

After receiving the letter, Walters met with Wyeth Aug. 29 to discuss her feelings.

“Dr. Walters basically just explained why they decided to not allow us to talk,” Wyeth said. “She said that it was for the parents and for the students who were there. I think that their priorities were a little shifted from what they should’ve been, but it was very respectful for [Dr. Walters] to come and acknowledge [our voices]. I appreciate that.

Wyeth’s primary goal was to represent the student body. After posting her letter on Twitter, she received over 100 likes and retweets.

“I was getting a lot of texts and Snapchats saying ‘Thank you so much, this is exactly what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how to say it,” Wyeth said. “It was very comforting. Since I didn’t get that in class, it was good to get it outside of class.”

While Wyeth has since begun healing from her experience at the Salt Bowl, it is still a process that she is currently undergoing.

“Even a week after it happened, I was still having trouble sleeping,” Wyeth said. “It sounds weird, but if I hear a loud noise at school, I get scared [even though] I feel safe here.”

From the perspective of someone who did not attend the Salt Bowl, senior Lauren Basco understands why students may have wanted to talk about their experiences on Monday.

“I felt like talking about it may have been a way to move past it,” Basco said.

However, Basco also understands administration’s decision to try to move past Salty Saturday.

“I know that a lot of people had severe panic attacks,” Basco said. “Harping on it always is not helpful either. I feel like overall, it was probably a good decision [not to talk about the Salt Bowl on Monday] because I know that it was traumatizing for a lot of students.”

Administration also implemented new security measures for home football games beginning Sept. 14. Some of these changes include security wand checks, backpacks and duffle bags not being permitted and no loitering anywhere but the stands during any football game. According to Walters, these changes will “remain in effect for future events.”

The Hornets return to War Memorial for the first time since the Salt Bowl for the game against Little Rock Catholic Fri. Sept. 28.

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