After a shooting outside of their first home game, William Penn football coach Russ Stoner talks about gathering his team and where they go from here. Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record
The night started out with so much promise and optimism.
The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers on grills filled the air in the parking lot, mingling with the sound of a DJ mixing music. More than a thousand William Penn fans filed into Small Field, occupying gaps in those bleachers that have stood empty for years. The players and coaches felt waves of support drift down from the stands on a level unlike any this group of Bearcats has ever experienced at a home game.
For the first time in a long time, a palpable buzz surrounded a William Penn home game.
That's what makes the events at the end of Friday's game even more frustrating for the team.
Police officers put the stadium on lockdown during the fourth quarter after two adult men were shot in the parking lot following a verbal dispute that started inside the stadium, police said. Both teams huddled at the far corner of the field while fans inside the stadium scrambled for shelter. The game never resumed.
“I’m angered because something like that should never happen here," William Penn coach Russ Stoner said Saturday. “Yesterday, the kids walked down from the high school two-by-two, proud as all can be. People were out blowing horns for them, people were out waving to them. We don’t want to lose that, and I refuse to let it happen.”
Coming off an 0-10 season last year, Stoner took over the coaching position last winter looking to instill a winning culture and reinvigorate community support for the team. Friday night was the team's first home game of the year.
“This has no reflection on the school district, it should have no reflection on the football program," Stoner said. "This is something that’s happening in our city. We have to make sure that those people that have those kind of beefs don’t do it around our schools, around our playgrounds, around Small Field. It has to be off limits.”
Stoner, his assistant coaches and six players returned to Small Field on Saturday morning. They cleaned up the stadium, then spent some time in the locker room watching film.
William Penn coaches preach a "next play" mentality to keep players focused during games. They're encouraging players to keep the same mindset following Friday night.
“The football piece was there last night. The atmosphere was there last night. I don’t want to take away from that,” Stoner said. “As terrible of an event as this was, I’m hoping we — not just York city, but York County — can understand the trials and tribulations that these kids go through being York city residents. We need everyone’s support. The city needs to bond together and not point fingers and keep loving the kids and coming to support the kids.”