Citing concerns about safety at large sporting events, particularly at football and basketball games, the Granite City Warriors will leave the Southwestern Conference in 2018.
The Granite City School District No. 9 School Board voted 7-0 Tuesday night to exit the SWC, of which the Warriors were one of the charter members in 1923. Granite City played in the conference until 1975 when the school split into two – North and South. The Warriors rejoined in 1985 when the schools again came together.
Granite City will play in the league one more season but will not be eligible for conference championships. The Warriors will be independent starting in 2018 and will at that point begin to explore possible affiliation with another conference.
Granite City Superintendent Jim Greenwald said the genesis for leaving the SWC stemmed from a Feb. 21 boys basketball game the Warriors played at East St. Louis.
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The teams were late in the first half when it was discovered a student had possession of a gun. No shots were fired. The game was not rescheduled, and both teams took a forfeit loss. Granite City players and cheerleaders were escorted by police to the school bus.
Greenwald first wrote a letter to East St. Louis Superintendent Arthur Culver, expressing concerns about the Feb. 21 issue in East St. Louis.
Greenwald then wrote another letter to Culver and the superintendents of the other SWC schools — Belleville West and Belleville East, Edwardsville, O’Fallon, Collinsville and Alton — and asked them to meet with their respective principals and athletics directors to consider the possibility of purchasing metal detectors or wands to be used at entrances to gymnasiums and stadiums.
Greenwald pointed out that Granite City uses two metal detectors at large sporting events hosted by the school. Principal Daren DePew said each metal detector cost about $2,000, and Athletics Director John Moad added that auxiliary police also are on site with wands.
Greenwald, however, said he received no direct feedback from the superintendents, and it led to the unanimous vote to withdraw. School board members are Matt Jones, Dr. Bill McMasters, Carolyn Yates, Kathy Hagnauer, Bev Scroggins, Tanja Cook Sedabres and Linda Knogl.
Greenwald said conference athletics directors told DePew and Moad that their respective superintendents weren’t on board with the heightened security measures.
“The answer was no-go,” Greenwald said. “It was somewhat of a surprise to us. When (DePew and Moad) came back and said, ‘Hey, nobody is interested in doing this,’ that’s when we saw we were going to have to proceed (with leaving the SWC).
“The safety issue is what precipitated this. This is not picking on East St. Louis. But the collective disposition and decision I have to respect ... not to adhere to any type of proactive safety measures ... When we brought that back, our board said, ‘Hey, look, we know this is a bold move, but we’re going to take your recommendation on this.’”
Greenwald believes spending $4,000 for two metal detectors is a small price to pay for enhancing safety for students and fans.
“When you go to our events, we have the metal detectors at major events where we’ve got multiple policemen — football games, basketball games,” Greenwald said. “It’s seamless. Then when I’m there, I know that we’re safe. That’s my big argument with anyone. ... This is a business-type decision. This isn’t a pound-sour-grapes or anything of that nature.”
SWC Commissioner Bill Schmidt, the former boys basketball coach and athletics director at Belleville West, said league administrators weren’t ready to make the move.
“The administrators, I know, talked about it themselves without athletic directors,” Schmidt said. “We were told the administrations of the schools are obviously concerned about security and want to be as secure as possible, but they weren’t going to go down the road of metal detectors at this time.”
Granite City is somewhat concerned about filling its schedules as an independent, but Greenwald and others expressed optimism that the Warriors still could play SWC teams.
Schmidt said he can foresee that happening, since each school in the SWC is in charge of its own non-conference schedules and will not be discouraged from playing Granite City.
Schmidt is disappointed to see Granite City leave the league.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about Granite City,” Schmidt said. “Their teams were always competitive when I coached against them, and when I’ve worked with the athletic directors at Granite City, they were always hard workers and were great hosts when they hosted events. They’ve always been very professional and very good.
“They were a very valuable and good member of the Southwestern Conference from the get-go.”
Several Granite City coaches attended the meeting and were involved in the public discussion, including football coach Carl Luehmann, new boys soccer coach Ryan Reeves, girls soccer coach Kenny Prazma and girls golf coach Karen Greenwald.