The Washington Post

Fight compels MCPS to approve new rules

- BY MICHAEL ERRIGO

The fallout from Friday’s onfield brawl between Northwest and Gaithersbu­rg high schools continued Wednesday as Montgomery County Public Schools announced new countywide safety measures for athletic events.

But school system officials did not provide clarity on the status of the football players and coaches involved in the expansive fight that halted last weekend’s game between the Jaguars and Trojans and led to Gaithersbu­rg’s athletic director filing an assault charge against Northwest’s coach.

In a charging document obtained by The Washington Post, Gaithersbu­rg AD William Gant alleges Northwest second-year coach Travis Hawkins struck him in the head and shoulder during the scrum. A preliminar­y hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7. Hawkins, 31, has not been formally charged by authoritie­s.

“I have seen several videos of the incident, and Mr. Hawkins does not look to be de-escalating the on-field actions,” Gant wrote. “He looks to be escalating the issue.”

Hawkins was named Northwest’s coach in February 2021 after longtime coach Mike Neubeiser stepped down. Neubeiser had led the Jaguars to two state championsh­ips in nine seasons, forging Northwest into one of the preeminent powers in Montgomery County, a perch it shared with neighborin­g rival Quince Orchard. Hawkins was a young and energetic defensive backs coach on that staff.

He graduated from Quince Orchard and starred at Delaware before a profession­al stint in which he played in the NFL, AFL and CFL. In his first season as Northwest’s coach, Hawkins leaned on his ability to relate to his players and led the Jaguars to an 11-2 record and an appearance in the Maryland 4A semifinals, in which they lost to eventual champion Quince Orchard by a point.

Hawkins could not be reached for comment this week.

Asked Wednesday whether Hawkins was still the coach of the Northwest football program, director of systemwide athletics Jeff Sullivan said he was unable to comment on personnel matters during an ongoing investigat­ion.

At a news conference in Rockville, officials mostly stuck to the script of unveiling their new guidelines, which will go into effect Friday across Montgomery County. Among them:

Students from the two participat­ing schools must have a valid student ID to enter the event.

Any other “school-aged spectators” must be accompanie­d by an adult chaperone for the entirety of the game.

Reentry or entry after halftime is prohibited. Large gatherings outside of the stands are also prohibited.

Backpacks are prohibited. Inappropri­ate behavior can lead to suspension from subsequent MCPS activities.

Should more incidents occur, Sullivan said, there will be a tiered approach. Schools and teams could be subject to limited spectators or game time changes. On a tier beyond that, games might have closed concession­s, parent-only attendance or no attendance whatsoever.

“We don’t want to go there,” Sullivan said. “We’re not aspiring to a tier three. But we did want to share with our community that we have thought through this tiered process.”

These game day changes are the latest ripple effects in the aftermath of Friday’s incident, for which four juveniles and a 19-year-old man were charged Tuesday with assault. Brian Hull, MCPS’S chief operating officer, would not comment about any arrests or police action.

Both football programs are temporaril­y suspended as the county conducts a further investigat­ion into the matter.

In a joint letter sent to their school communitie­s Monday, Northwest principal Scott Smith and Gaithersbu­rg principal Cary Dimmick said each team would forfeit its upcoming game Friday. Northwest was scheduled to play Richard Montgomery, and Gaithersbu­rg was set to play BethesdaCh­evy Chase.

It also was determined that last week’s game, in which the brawl occurred, would be counted as a double-forfeit.

Northwest opened this season with a dramatic 33-28 loss to Damascus and earned a blowout win over Clarksburg the following week.

Both Northwest and Gaithersbu­rg now have 1-3 records. Barring further discipline, both still will be eligible for the state playoffs because in Maryland all teams make the postseason.

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