Fights prompt review of security Midnight basketball games in Columbia are to help youths avoid trouble


A series of fights outside a Columbia gymnasium during Midnight Basketball League games over the weekend has spurred authorities to begin reviewing security procedures.

By early Saturday, Howard County police had arrested four adults and three juveniles on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to second-degree assault, stemming from events that began outside Howard Community College and spread to a nearby convenience store.

About 11: 30 p.m. Friday, as young men played basketball inside the gym in a program designed to steer them away from troublemaking, about 150 people had gathered outside, police said.

Authorities said the crowd had nothing to do with the league, which plays on Tuesday and Friday nights, but was apparently drawn to the college parking lot by the games.

The fights that began there eventually continued at the Wawa convenience store on Hickory Ridge Road, where rocks were thrown at the 15 officers trying to quell the disturbance, said Sgt. Morris Carroll, spokesman for the department.

Police are offering $100 rewards for information leading to the arrests of the rock-throwers.

Police speculated the fights began that afternoon in Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake villages before continuing that night on the HCC parking lot.

Authorities were alerted at 11: 30 p.m. to the growing crowd when an off-duty officer attending the games noticed several fights.

He called for backup, Carroll said.

Six officers arrived and the crowd scattered, but not before police arrested two Columbia juveniles on second-degree assault charges, Carroll said.

About an hour later, half the crowd had moved to the Wawa and people began scuffling in the street and behind buildings, Carroll said. Officers from as far away as Ellicott City and North Laurel were dispatched to the scene, he said.

"We asked them to leave, but they refused to leave," Carroll said. "They were being verbally abusive."

Police arrested four adults and another juvenile, all of Columbia, on disorderly conduct charges.

Officials with the Columbia Association, which runs the Midnight Basketball League, said the program's director was speaking with HCC security and police about preventing future incidents.

"This does not happen often, not the norm," Carroll said. "These types of instances are known to occur sometimes in the summertime and are being addressed. No one was seriously injured."

The Midnight Basketball League runs from early June to Aug. 1 and has 125 players, mostly Columbia residents, ages 15 to 25, said Pam Mack, a CA spokeswoman.

On Sundays, players attend workshops on job-hunting skills, from resume writing to interviewing.

"The games are an outlet for their energy in summertime," Mack said. "It's been very successful nationally and here."

Pub Date: 6/30/98

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