One of the great rivalries in Rhode Island high school sports added another chapter to its history last Friday, as the Bishop Hendricken Hawks and La Salle Rams battled to a 4-4 tie in what was one of the best games of the 2018-19 winter season.
The two clubs have been close rivals over the past decade, and have put on some of the best performances on the biggest stages in that span. When these two teams meet, fireworks are almost a guarantee.
That said, whenever these two teams square off, it also draws a massive crowd.
The last time these two teams squared off was earlier in the season in Smithfield. The line was out the door, with people continuing to file in the building late into the first period and even into the second. The staff at the rink finally had to start turning people around since the building had reached its capacity.
The Thayer Arena in Warwick faced similar issues on Friday night, and the way things played out left me convinced that the venue or the Rhode Island Interscholastic League must step in to sort out this problem moving forward.
When I cover hockey games, I typically pick one or two corners of the glass to camp out at. I jot down notes in my pad, throw a few updates up on Twitter, shoot some photos, typical reporter stuff. Usually it is quite simple to accomplish, even during busy nights. Midway through the first period on Friday through, I slowly began feeling my personal space dwindling, and by game’s end I was forced to stand my ground just to see the action.
I’m not trying to ask for sympathy, that is not what this column is about. I could have nestled into the press box that sits above ice level, but I chose to do my usual routine. Point being, I am not trying act like a victim.
The point that I am trying to get across though, is that the Thayer Arena allowed far too many spectators into the building that night. By the end of the game, every seat in the arena was filled, along with nearly the entire floor space at ice level. There were no clear walking paths toward any of the exits, bathrooms, etc., and not to make it sound crazier than it was, but in reality, there was no order in the building and a total lack of effort to establish it.
Not only were viewers entering through the front entrance, but students and families were pouring through the back, prohibited entrances. I can’t tell you how many students from both sides I heard talking on their phones saying, ‘come to the back door and I’ll let you in,’ followed by crowds and crowds of bodies.
The biggest issue is clearly safety, and the Thayer Arena failed to provide that on Friday night. Had there been some sort of emergency, hundreds of people would have been in some serious trouble if they had to evacuate the building. Sure, it wasn’t the front gate’s fault entirely since so many unmarked attendees snuck their way in, but how there was not a greater security presence for a game like that is beyond me.
After the safety factor though, there was also the gameplay situation. The student sections where entirely filled and rocking, but grew to the point where the sea of kids flowed all the way to the glass. There were multiple times throughout the game that the glass sections had to be attended to by officials due to the student bodies climbing all over them. I don’t want to rag on the kids, because the student sections are one of the greatest parts in high school sports, but the fact that hundreds of kids were allowed to have free reign like that was another issue that was totally ignored by the Thayer Arena staff.
All of what I mentioned occurred in the building but there was even more chaos outside in the parking lot. I stayed for an extra 20 minutes or so to get my interviews and whatnot, but still had to wait over 30 minutes to exit the parking lot. I had been to the arena before on a Friday night for hockey games and never had to wait more than a couple minutes to exit the property. I was wondering why it took so long this time, but the reason became more and more evident … which was that there were dozens of cars parked in undesignated spots which interrupted the flow of traffic.
I’m not blaming the arena considering there is only so much space that they can allow for parking. But the fact that so many cars were parked in undesignated spots and were completely unaddressed is just.another.issue.
I know that I sound whiney, I know that there are probably extenuating circumstances that I am not aware of, but to say that the Thayer Arena did everything in its power to ensure a smooth event would be a bold-faced lie. Whether it is adding more security, or being stricter when it comes to staying within its capacity, the Thayer Arena needs to address these areas because if not, spectators will be at risk every time a big game like this goes down.
And at the end of the day, if there is no solution within the arena itself, then I think it’s time to start scheduling big games like this in other buildings with a greater capacity. Once again, I’m sorry for whining, and I mean no offense to the employees that I’m sure work very hard at the Thayer Arena. However, after last Friday night, I think it is now a necessity to address the issue and make improvements moving forward.