IOWA CITY — At an early City High football game, the players on the field weren’t the only ones at risk.
As the season-opening game between the Little Hawks and Liberty Lightning heated up on Aug. 31, so did the crowd — until one of the bleachers collapsed, injuring some City High students.
“I would like it to be safe for students to stand on (the bleachers),” an injured student, sophomore Rachel Meehan, said. “I don’t want people to not be able to stand on benches at all during football games, but I want it to be safe enough that they can and we don’t have to worry about it falling or breaking.”
Bleacher benches collapsing is becoming a common theme among football games. According to Scott Jespersen, one of City High’s vice principals, the bleachers have broken in the past might not have been accidents.
“In the course of the last two years, the students intentionally broke the benches in the first couple of rows,” Jesperson said. “They saw that they were starting to break, so they thought it would be funny to take them all the way.”
The frequency of the bleacher incidents is making City High students worry about the safety of the “Red Zone” in the bleachers.
“I was extremely surprised that all the students around us, when it fell, commented, ‘Oh, this happens all the time, it’s completely fine — it’s always falling, everything is always breaking,’” Meehan said. “It just really worries me.”
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Meehan said “when the pain level got too unbearable” she went home and later to an emergency clinic. She wasn’t the only one injured by the bleachers. Sophomore Sierra Josephson sported bruises on her back and legs due to the bench collapse.
“We stood up like everyone else and the game started,” Josephson said. “As we cheered and jumped and danced, the bench swayed under us, but I didn’t think anything of it and neither did anybody else.”
Josephson said she is not worried about her injuries nearly as much as the fact that someone else could get hurt without warning.
“It’s very concerning to me that no one is trying to replace the problematic bench, just put it back into place and wait for the next people to break it again,” Josephson said. “There were no warnings or marks on the bench to warn me that it was susceptible to breaking off. Not one of us on the bench knew that (they) could break and that we could be injured at any moment.”
Meehan also is concerned about more people becoming more seriously injured in the future.
“Why hasn’t someone said something about this before?” Meehan said. “If this continues people could get seriously injured. I was lucky enough to not have anything extremely serious (happen), but I just want to make it so that people are safe in the future.”
These two injuries are not the only to have happened in the Red Zone of the bleachers. In the past couple of years, students have been injuring themselves from bleacher collapses to jumping from mosh pits and landing on their heads. The string of injuries that have occurred at football games in forcing the administration to re-evaluate the security of the bleachers and how they are built.
“The way the benches are constructed, there is a little bracket that slides into another bracket, and occasionally those become loosened from the students walking on them,” Jespersen said.
Jespersen has been working to try to find a solution to this problem and prevent accidents like this from happening again.
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“Typically (the problematic area is) the first couple of rows, so the district has reinforced (the) benches in the first three or four rows,” he said.
The district also has been reviewing other options to improve the safety of the “Red Zone.”
“We’ve thought about actually taking out the benches in the student section because most of the students don’t sit down, except at halftime and before the game,” Jespersen said. “That is something we’ve considered, but we haven’t taken that step.”
Jespersen and the school district are working together to prevent future accidents from happening and making sure everyone is focused on the safety of the students.
“Are we worried about it happening again?” Jespersen said. “Yes, of course. We don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
The Little Hawks host Davenport North tonight. Kickoff is set for 7:15 p.m.