0928-Prattville at We2 3

Two days before Hohenberg Field is set to host a rivalry game between Wetumpka and Stanhope Elmore, Wetumpka High School principal Dr. Robbie Slater announced on the school’s Facebook page students and fans would no longer be allowed on the field before, during or after games without having permission from the school’s administration.

“This is a procedure that most, if not all, high schools follow for football games,” Slater posted. “This will ensure the safety of all participants. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”

In the past, Wetumpka students, parents and fans were allowed to join the team on the field after the game to listen to the band play the alma mater and for pictures with the players. Slater said he has been talking about changing the rule with the other administrators for about a year and they revisited it when the Indians returned home last week against Prattville before making the final decision before Friday’s game against Stanhope.

Slater said he wanted to be clear in the Facebook post safety was the main reason for this change. He said no single incident caused the decision but there have been minor incidents on the field after the game over the years which led to bigger problems outside of the stadium.

“People are saying nothing has happened so why change anything but we’re not going to wait until something does happen,” Slater said. “We would rather be proactive than reactive.”

Elmore County Superintendent Richard Dennis stood by Slater’s reasoning and added the decision was made also due to what the AHSAA allows its schools to do before and after games. Slater wanted to be clear the decision was not made based on what other schools do but what he believes is best for everyone involved.

The Wetumpka students quickly reacted to the school’s decision and had an online petition up less than nine hours after Slater’s post to Facebook. After 15 hours, the petition, which was created on change.org by an account called Class of 2020, reached its goal of 1000 signatures and has now extended its goal to 1500.

“It’s so upsetting to say that this tradition will no longer take place at Hohenberg Stadium,” the petition stated. “The tradition where after every home game, win or lose, the student body ran down to the field to wrap our arms around one another and look up in the stands to sing the alma mater. The tradition where the family, friends, and out of town family/friends ran down to the field to meet with their football players to give them a big hug and tell them how good they played no matter the outcome of the game. The tradition where we all came together as one to celebrate our Indians.”

Slater said having that reaction showed the passion and emotion the community has and it can be a good thing to see that kind of outpouring support for Wetumpka. However, he also said it can be a negative because people outside of the decision-making process begin making comments without knowing the full story.

“I understand the emotions from fans and parents and players,” Slater said. “We might look at tweaking it a little bit down the road but this decision is staying put as of now. We want to make decisions that are best for everyone and not just best for one group.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.