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St. Pete community looks to address fights at youth football games

A meeting was held after a large fight broke out at a game between St. Pete and Lakewood.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A long-time rivalry is causing some concern after a fight broke out at a game between St. Petersburg and Lakewood.

"When you have a whole bunch of people running around, you don't know what's going to happen," Wesley Reed, president of the Lakewood Jr. Spartans, said.  

He said the fight happened at a game two weekends ago as a group of teenagers were near the field, started fighting, rushed the barricades and forced their way onto the field.

"They brought their fight from outside the gate inside the gate. I feared for everybody. I took it as a leader and said this has to stop. We have to do better," Reed said.

Now, the city and community are looking for answers to prevent fights at youth football games. 

"We don't want to load up the games with security and police. Chief has almost 600 police and that's not the answer. We need the community to help us with this problem," St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch said.

The league already has expectations for each president and bag checks and security wanding are mandatory. Also, St. Pete police officers and security are required at all games after 5 p.m. Coaches and staff said the problem is both the kids and parents. 

"We're in a new generation where the atmosphere is actually set before you show up on Saturday," one coach said at the community meeting Wednesday night.

Everyone in the room said they agreed that parents placing bets on games and social media are heightening the situation.

"Children don't even speak today. Parents don't even make their children address them. We're going to bury somebody and everybody is going to be looking sad. Now is the time to change the culture," Pastor Louis Murphy said.

While they look at potential options like seating rivals on opposite sides of the field and more security from the police department, funding is at the forefront.

"Funding and just community help. Having conversations with parents and just making sure they know when you are at these fields it's all about the kids. Just keep it at the kids level so we all go home safely," Reed said.

This was the first meeting of many. Welch said his office will look at the league's funding and try to use their Community Redevelopment Area program to allocate more funds. 

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