Postgame melee in Bethesda has high school parents outraged

Michigan State president: Post-game melee 'unacceptable' –

By Jack Stripling WP September 5th 2023

A spate of violent altercations in downtown Bethesda on Friday night, following a high school football game, has renewed concerns among students, parents and school administrators about the safety of such events.Fast, informative and written just for locals. Get The 7 DMV newsletter in your inbox every weekday morning.

After a game between rivals Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Walter Johnson high schools, a large group of students gathered near the Bethesda Metro station, where fighting ensued, resulting in “some serious student injuries,” principals of both schools said in a joint statement Saturday. At least one student was taken to a hospital for treatment, a district spokesperson told The Washington Post.

The incident comes nearly a year after Montgomery County Public Schools announced new safety protocols for athletics events, following an on-field brawl that broke out between Northwest and Gaithersburg high schools at a 2022 football game. Under the new restrictions, the audience of Friday’s game at Bethesda-Chevy Chase was limited to students of both schools, with other school-aged children requiring chaperones. But the violence that followed the game points toward the safety challenges that emerge beyond school property.

In their joint statement, Shelton Mooney, principal of Bethesda-Chevy Chase, and Jennifer Baker, principal of Walter Johnson, described the incidents as “dangerous, illegal and completely inappropriate.”

“This is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” the principals said.

Montgomery County police spokeswoman Shiera Goff said officers responded to “several calls” Friday after the game. Extra officers had been assigned to the area, she said in a statement, and they responded to reports of “thefts, robbery and assaults” in Bethesda’s central business district.

A Walter Johnson student filed a report with police Friday night, saying “he was assaulted and had his shoes stolen,” according to the statement. “There are more juveniles coming forward this weekend, reporting that they had also been assaulted,” Goff added.

As of late Sunday afternoon, no arrests had been made, Goff told The Post.

Bethesda students have been texting one another videos of the violent melees that occurred after the game, one student told The Post. Some of the videos are circulating on social media. The Post has not independently verified the authenticity of the videos, which appear to capture short snippets of sometimes-brutal altercations between students.

Chris Cram, a spokesman for Montgomery County Public Schools, said school officials would work with police and Metro security to identify perpetrators.

“The idea of course is to get to the bottom of this,” Cram said. “People were harmed. That can’t happen in the future. This behavior is not to be tolerated.”

Students can be disciplined for violations of the student code of conduct off school property, according to the policy.

Kate Stewart, a Montgomery County Council member, happened to be on a ride-along with police Friday night in Bethesda. She did not directly observe any violence, she said, and was impressed with what she saw of how officers handled the postgame crowd. But Stewart said the school system needs to consider new approaches, which might include a decision to “take a pause from these two schools playing each other.” (Walter Johnson is in District 4, which Stewart represents.)

“What I’m hearing is a lot of shock at the violence that we all witnessed,” Stewart said, “and an insistence that we need to do better next time.”Share this articleShare

‘Everybody is outraged’

Leading up to Friday’s game, students, parents and community members were already bracing for the possibility of violence, several people told The Post. Among them was Lyric Winik, immediate past president of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Parent Teacher Student Association.

This problem has been going on for years, Winik said. Last year, as president of the PTSA, Winik posted a message on the association’s email group about “an epidemic of street fighting in downtown Bethesda” after the school’s football game with Walter Johnson. Winik wrote that she was “frustrated, as a parent, that there hasn’t been much more open discussion in our school community of post-game fighting.” On Sunday, in a message to The Post, Winik expressed frustration that Montgomery County Public Schools do not take more responsibility for off-campus violence after school events.

“For the sake of the students and local residents, I hope MCPS will finally enact a comprehensive game-day safety plan,” she wrote in an email, “extending beyond the technical school borders. If Montgomery County wants community support of its schools, our schools need to commit to being good neighbors in the community.”

Other parents, while similarly disturbed by the violence, credited school administrators with doing their best to improve safety. Rex Garcia-Hidalgo, president of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Sports Boosters Foundation, said there was a “huge” police presence at the game Friday, which he attended. To reduce the risk of postgame conflicts, Garcia-Hidalgo said B-CC students were instructed to stay in the stadium for about 15 minutes as Walter Johnson fans exited the stadium. (The Walter Johnson Wildcats won the game 21-14.)

“We had a show, and we were giving away free merch, to keep our fans in the stadium,” he said.

Garcia-Hidalgo said he was among the last to leave the game, by which time the crowd appeared to have peacefully dispersed. Then, “these videos started rolling in,” he said.

“And all the kids are in these chat groups  andIsaw it and I was outraged,” he said. “This was really bad. In years past it’s two kids going at it, or groups of one-on-one fights. But this was like a beatdown by a mob on like two or three or four kids — and girls also.”

Hearing from other parents, Garcia-Hidalgo said, “everybody is outraged.” And yet, there is concern that steps that might be taken to mitigate the problem — whether it’s pushing games to earlier in the day or limiting the number of spectators — will punish everyone for the actions of a relative few.

“It’s a very complicated situation,” he said. “I really don’t have a solution.”

Mary Bittle Koenick,president of theWalter Johnson High School All-School Booster Club, has two boys who play football at Walter Johnson. She said that MCPS “has done a good job with the things that are in their control.” Yet, Koenick found the videos from Friday “shocking.” She said she was saddened to think about “what generates this type of action — this type of anger — among the students.”

“I think this goes beyond a school rivalry,” Koenick said.

Christo Doyle, whose daughter is a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, said he has advised her to steer clear of areas where students congregate after games.

“I would like it not to be such a spectacle,” said Doyle, a 1990 graduate of the school, who captained the football team. “I would like the student body of both schools to realize they shouldn’t go and give this fuel.”

Doyle said he hopes the students involved in the violence are held legally accountable. “I think a couple of kids being made examples of,” he said, “is unfortunately necessary.”