Brawl mars Smyrna’s win over Cape: North tiebreaker called early as gym erupts

VIDEO: Cape Henlopen-Smyrna basketball game brawl

MILFORD — A wild brawl caused the Henlopen Conference Northern Division tiebreaker to be called early and might affect teams headed into the postseason.

The boys’ basketball game was halted with Smyrna High leading Cape Henlopen 61-34 on Thursday night.

A fight between fans seated behind the Cape Henlopen bench and Cape players began with 4:02 left in the game and spilled onto the court.

Smyrna’s Jaymeir Garnett shoots against Cape’s Randy Rickards in the second quarter at Milford. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Before the start of the fourth quarter, police and school administrators visited the area behind the Smyrna bench to give fans a warning. A few minutes later after a Cape timeout, punches were exchanged between players and fans.

“I can handle losing a basketball game, Smyrna was clearly the better team,” said Cape Henlopen coach Stephen Re. “But this is a problem throughout our society. Every basketball game it becomes personal. … These crowds root against you more than they cheer for you. Tonight was just straight being heckled. We were being ridiculed the whole game.”

The fight began in the front of the bleachers but soon the whole area under the basket was mobbed with people.

Police officers handcuffed at least one spectator who threw punches at a Cape Henlopen player. Blood was visible on the court and the walls of the gym.

It is unknown how many players could be suspended. Both teams are expected to be top seeds in the upcoming state tournament.

Smyrna will face Woodbridge High tonight for the Henlopen Conference title at Dover High at 8 p.m.

Smyrna coach Andrew Mears said none of his five players on the court were involved in the fight and no one left the bench. Jaymeir Garnett, who scored 24 points, was restrained from running down the court but never reached the brawl.

Smyrna’s Nalik Veasley-Johnson shoots against Cape’s Randy Rickards in the second quarter at Milford. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“None of our guys were involved,” Mears said. “I think he was just interested in finding out, maybe he had people he knew. We just wanted to make sure our players were on our side, were safe and we’ll move on.”

“This is an isolated incident,” Mears added. “Our focus is on tomorrow night. I’m sure there’s enough cameras to capture everything that happened but we have no concerns.”

Multiple Cape Henlopen players left the bench during the brawl, some were involved while some were trying to escape.

There is a DIAA rule which says any player who leaves the bench during an altercation will be suspended. But Re said his players didn’t have much choice.

“I did see somebody from the crowd swing at one of my players,” Re said. “There were floods of people coming out of the stands. So who left the bench? Everybody? So we all get suspended? I have no idea. It’s an impossible thing to discuss right now. It’s unfortunate, that’s all I know.”

Smyrna athletic director Bill Schultz said he moved some Smyrna students out from behind the Cape Henlopen bench in between the third and fourth quarters when the problems first surfaced.

“Those issues were fine but then some new people who aren’t Smyrna students came into the situation,” Schultz said. “We didn’t have the same connection with them and weren’t able to address them as much.”

Cape’s Randy Rickards goes for an easy layup against Smyrna in the first quarter at Milford. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Schultz added Smyrna plans on playing the game against Woodbridge tonight.

“We’re going to have to play the game whether we’re a player short or not,” Schultz said. “Hopefully it won’t tarnish what a great game we played and Cape is a competitive team and we don’t want to take that away from them. It’s unfortunate fans influenced this situation and caused us to stop the game.”

In a sold out Milford gym, seating was hard to come by.

Both bench areas were cramped against crowded rows of bleachers. Fans were sitting in the row directly behind Cape’s bench and Re said his players were being heckled all game.

Re also said fans were not letting the Vikings sit back down after team huddles during timeouts.

“Smyrna beat us far and square on the court,” Re said. “But I got guys taking video of my bench players while the game is going on. We’re trying to sit down on the bench and people are putting their feet where we’re supposed to sit. To me, that whole setup was just dynamite waiting to explode.”
All film from media and surveillance cameras will be dissected by the DIAA and the Henlopen Conference before decisions about possible suspensions are made.

“The athletic directors and officials have to get together,” said Bud Hitchens, the executive secretary of the Henlopen Conference. “The officials have to file reports on who came off the bench or whatever. They’ll decide what they’re going to do and it’ll go through a process. Who knows, somebody might not be playing tomorrow night.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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