Be Cautious, But Be There.

By Nelson Coffin

For a few weeks we have all read or heard about leagues and tournaments making decisions regarding continuation of play under the national "Orange-Plus" alert level and during the war with Iraq. We couldn't help but wonder how the perhaps prolonged military involvement and occupation along with potential terrorist activities might affect the lacrosse season and the second or third highest attended college championship - NCAA Lacrosse. Only a few days ago the nation went from the yellow alert level to the orange and all states and localities followed suit quickly. An actual terrorist attack on US soil, even much lesser than those of 9-11, would likely prompt an immediate rise to the red or "Severe Condition" level that calls for the "Closing public and government facilities." We've never been to that level. The alert system did not exist in September of 2001. So, we decided to ask around to see what an increase in the level of security would mean to the lacrosse season and our main event over Memorial Day weekend in Baltimore.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Campbell checks for a seal
on his oxygen mask. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Hannen

The answers to the questions e-lacrosse posed to various officials about the season's status were, like the times, sometimes uneasy, very often vague and usually uncertain. After all, Officials want to sound, well, official. And they are not clairvoyant. We wanted answers and perhaps there are no solid answers we can all use to plan with. There is no crystal ball for those in charge to figure out exactly what to do or when to do it. We are all going through this for the first time - or for the first time in a long time. The bottom line at this point is that nobody knows how the attacked Iraqis and their sympathizers overseas and in the US might react to the war. If the war is over as quickly as Desert Storm's 100-hour invasion in the Gulf War waged a dozen years ago, we might be able to go on about our lives in the normal fashion of lacrosse fans. But, No one knows when another Al Qaeda attack might be carried out in the US. We just know it will be attempted. Secretary of Homeland Security puts it simply, "We know we have been attacked before. We know that our interests have been attacked abroad. And we should prepare for potential attacks, either here or abroad at this time."

Secretary Ridge Explains the Alert System

Taking in a college game on Saturday or a big high school contest on a Friday afternoon, we marvel at the beauty of the game. The supreme stick work and dodging artistry of its players annually remind us that winter's drudgery is but a fleeting glance in the rearview mirror. This spring, though, current events and local response to them may wreak as much havoc as the 2003 winter snows. Just last week a North Carolina tobacco farmer parked his tractor in the pool at a national monument and shut down a good portion of the nation's capitol for a few days. The Iraqi conflict could have a major impact on how Americans navigate their way through the season. Or not.

The nation recently changed from yellow to orange security levels

Much depends on how the Gulf War and efforts against terrorism proceed, and how we adjust to the news from the front lines or warnings from domestic agencies like the FBI and DHS. Do we stop everything, stand in solidarity with our troops overseas and turn our attention to things more germane than goals, assists and saves? Or are Americans wise to keep the home fires burning by maintaining the rituals of our springtime culture? On a more pragmatic level, we must ascertain the best course toward the safety of our athletes and fans.

College athletics has already made a stand with the support of the federal government. When asked about the possible postponement or even cancellation of the 2003 NCAA Basketball tournament due to the war, NCAA President Miles Brand expressed the organization's sentiments that speak to all NCAA tournaments to be held this year. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the young men and women who are in the desert and elsewhere defending our freedom," Brand said. "We are also concerned that life go on as normal. We see no reason, after consulting with Secretary Ridge, to make any alterations to our plan."

Greg Shaheen, managing director of the Division I Men's Basketball Championship added in a public statement this week, "The Final Fours are gatherings of thousands of people," he said. "We want the environment to be not only wholesome but safe for student-athletes, team personnel and fans. Everything we're doing centers on that. We haven't requested that the Men's and Women's [basketball] Final Fours be designated as National Security Events. We could request that designation or the government could decide to designate them as such. It could happen either way."

"The NCAA has clear support from the federal government homeland security department to proceed along with the Championships, whether basketball or lacrosse although lacrosse is a couple months away." The NCAA's Jeff Howard explained to E-Lacrosse, "If there were a code red or any change in the condition of safety for our participants and players, immediate consultation would occur with the federal government authorities and our constituencies [local authorities, stadium facilitators, leagues and teams]. The NCAA has developed contingencies on many scenarios and will do everything to ensure the safety of all involved."

Games may be, after all, a calling card for retaliation. Safety concerns must be heeded. But, for the moment at least, things are slated to proceed at a normal pace. The games are to be played while the bigger contest unfolds in the Middle East. The acronyms will ultimately prevail through the acrimony. That's true with the NCAA basketball tournament's March Madness which is underway now, as well as Major League Baseball (but for a game canceled overseas), the NBA, NHL, NASCAR and the PGA as well as D-I, D-II and D-III lacrosse.

The National Lacrosse League is playing games this week, sharing the NCAA stance that the continuation of the institutions of our society help maintain normalcy and more healthful, less stressful living during the war. "The leaders of the United States and Canada have encouraged all of their citizens to continue leading their normal lives during these times of war," said NLL Commissioner Jim Jennings this week. "We're going to continue to play and entertain our great fans. Our hearts go out to the brave men and women of our Armed Forces. We pray for their safe return home."

Only a "Code Red", one of five color-coded warning levels developed by the Department of Homeland Security, would likely alter the situation, and fast. Under guidelines from the DHS, if the U.S. was placed on "Red Alert" close to game-time, most fans would probably find other things to do than attend a sporting event like staying off the streets to allow free movement of emergency personnel and following an emergency plan to gather with family members in a safe place. Under those circumstances, games could conceivably continue, albeit unlikely. "There's no rule," said DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse. "Code Red means that we are under attack or an attack is imminent. People should follow the advice of local authorities."

"Red" means stop all but essential activities because an attack is imminent or under way." says David McIntyre, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security and former Dean of the National War College. "Businesses and schools may suspend activities. Employees may work from home. Citizens should keep the streets clear for emergency response. Everyone should have a plan for maintaining essential functions, communicating with family members, and sustaining themselves at home for several days."

So "Red" would be a no-brainer. No event. Right? "It's not quite that simple," continues McIntyre. "The threat levels are requirements for the federal government but just suggestions to you and me as citizens. And they are suggestions to States, cities and private industry," continued one of the foremost authorities in the field. "The local police and the local mayor could stop an event but otherwise the call is the owner of the business whether it's a sporting venue a shopping mall or tourist attraction".

Airman from the 305th Security Forces Squadron
at McGuire AFB. U.S. Air Force photo by Kenn Mann

Johns Hopkins University, did not alter its plans to host a key early-season showdown with top-ranked Virginia this Saturday night, even if the planned TV coverage of the game by local channel 2 was pre- pre-empted by anticipated war coverage. "We have not been given any information that we are on any kind of special alert," said Hopkins Sports Information Director Ernie Larossa. "It's not an issue. We won't treat the game differently than any other game." The same goes for the finals. "We haven't even given it any thought at this point," said Maryland Stadium Authority Executive Director Rick Slosson, whose agency oversees Ravens Stadium. "It's two months away so in our minds, at this point, it's a non-issue."

Traveling with President Bush, DHS Secretary
Tom Ridge tours a water treatment plant in Kansas City, Mo.

Randy Larsen, Institute for Homeland Security spokesman, empathizes and actually trains executives that make these types of local and national decisions. "There's not a lot of specific information [out there], but the most important thing to understand about red [alert level] is that it's only for a short period of time," Larsen stated. "The reason you would go to red is because there was an attack already under way. You go to red to save lives, to protect further loss of lives and damage to property and to get emergency vehicles moving around. It's not a condition we would stay in for an extremely long time because of the enormous economic impact. And it might only be like an east coast red or impact a certain industry like nuclear plants or agriculture. But these are only a directive to the civilian element of the government and a private industry would have to make the call." It's a call we all hope never comes.

One of those local authorities of jurisdiction where the Division I, II and III men's championships will be held Memorial Day weekend at Ravens stadium, the Baltimore City Police Department, was not yet concerned with contingencies. "For the most part, we have to wait until we get to that point," said police spokesperson Ragina Averella. "But if we had police intelligence telling us that something was going to happen, we would encourage (game organizers) to make an appropriate decision. Right now, though, everything is normal. But we would ask people to be vigilant and cautious." Caution would be extreme under a Code Red alert, to say the least.

The venue for the men's championship is well-equipped to handle the rigors required for increased security. Ravens Stadium, like its other NFL counterparts, has made security a top priority following 9-11. "We're accustomed to having 70,000 people at an event," said Ravens Vice President of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne. "We have obviously increased our security by a large measure since 9-11. We have made structural changes with concrete barriers surrounding the stadium and we have cut off times for all deliveries and all deliveries are checked before they are allowed to enter."

In the worst case scenario, should the championship weekend have to be postponed, Byrne said that the schedule for Ravens Stadium is "flexible." The same can't be said for senior players from the military academies, who want badly to play in those May games before the big crowds, and whose next season might be far more critical as they graduate into one of the armed forces. Army men's lacrosse Coach Jack Emmer talked about the effects the war and terrorist threats have had on his squad this season. "We've been on varying degrees of alert all along," said Emmer, whose team had yet to return to West Point from spring break. "Things will tighten up considerably once war breaks out. But these kids are prepared. They don't want a war, but if it happens they don't want to miss it." Those seniors may not miss it as they could ascend from lacrosse fields this spring to a field of battle this summer so we can all play summer leagues in a free and safe country.

There was a general consensus among those we interviewed that can be summed up as "Be appreciative of those who fight for us, be cautious and aware of your surroundings and security here at home, be unchanged in your normal activities and BE THERE IN MAY FOR THE FINAL 4 IN BALTIMORE!" We can't say who will win the games but we know that anyone making the trip for that great weekend of lacrosse and celebration won't have lost to the threat of terrorism.

March 22, 2003