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Take a seat ... if you can


February 11, 2002

COMMENTARY - Take a seat ... if you can

By Mark Keller

Standing room only, packed house, full house ... sportswriters often use those phrases to describe a large crowd at an event.

Sometimes the use is accurate, others it's an exaggeration.

To say the crowd at the 100th North Hagerstown-South Hagerstown boys basketball game Friday night was "standing room only" would be putting it mildly.

Fans lined up for tickets as much as 2 1/2 hours before the doors opened. Police blocked the entrance to the school from South Potomac Street when it was deemed no more fans would be able to enter the gym under the fire code.

Inside, people were standing two-, three- and four-deep in each corner of South's newly-renovated gymnasium. Fans were crammed into the bleachers. Young kids sat on the floor in front of the bleachers all around the court.


With police, teachers and security, more than 1,000 people were on hand for Friday night's game. Nearly 2,000 people attended the first meeting of the season at North.

That kind of enthusiasm isn't entirely new for the City Series.

Ned Weirich coached the Rebels in the 1970s and '80s and now is the team's official scorer. He said crowds that size were routine when North and South met at that time, but it had been a while since he had seen anything like this.

The reason for that may be that there are now fewer seats in the South gymnasium.

When the long-overdue renovation of the gym was completed, the stage area was removed - bricked up and replaced with a state-of-the-art weight room.

The stage contained bleachers that could easily have held 300-400 more fans than were admitted to Friday night's game.

I'm not begrudging the school having a nice weight room - and it is, indeed, a very nice one - but why remodel a gym and make the seating capacity smaller?

And what happens when redistricting finally goes into effect and South receives more than 200 additional students? The gym will become even more cramped and fans will need to line up an hour earlier for a chance to get into the game.

North and South are enjoying great success this basketball season, which is certainly a contributing factor to the large crowds for their contests this year. North beat South 67-48 Friday to give the Rebels their first loss of the season. North has lost just three times this year.

No less than four years ago, North and South teams with similar records faced off in front of significantly smaller crowds. Why has the series suddenly been re-energized?

Nobody can really say for sure, but the key is to take advantage of the momentum that is building rather than ignore it.

In order to keep that momentum going, fans cannot be turned away at the gates.

Schedule the games to be played at Hagerstown Community College next year. Split the fees to rent the athletic complex. Cut a deal with the college administration for the concessions revenue.

Give every fan who wants to see the game an opportunity to get in the door.

A gentleman called our office at 5:25 Friday afternoon, asking where the North-South game was being played. I had to chuckle, thinking, "Buddy, if you don't know that at this time of day, you might as well not even ask."

Even that guy could have gotten into a larger venue to see the game.

In many cases, high school athletics play to a small audience of parents, friends and some die-hards. Friday night's North-South game was proof that isn't always the case.

For some fans, it takes a matchup of successful teams to venture out to the game.

If they meet with a locked door, however, they may just stay away for good.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at or at 301-733-5131 ext. 2332.

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