PORTSMOUTH — On a night in which a run-of-the-mill end of the regular-season boys basketball game went wrong, it’s important to recognize —per the two head coaches —what went right.
That’s because, per Portsmouth High School coach Gene Collins and Minford High School coach Josh Shoemaker, the Portsmouth High School Athletic Department — and by extension the Portsmouth City Schools District — did in fact do all it could to ensure safety of the players, cheerleaders and spectators amid the incident at Friday night’s game between the two teams.
The game, a makeup matchup between visiting Minford and host Portsmouth inside Trojan Arena, was stopped just one possession into the third quarter — as spectators, first on the home side and then quickly on the visitors’ side, were witnessed to be running out of the gymnasium.
Late on Friday night, the Portsmouth Police Department released a statement in regards to the incident, in which read in part “someone allegedly had a weapon. Someone overheard the comment and ran from the gym with others following. After the school was cleared, no weapon was found.”
That alleged weapon was believed to be a gun, but none was found at Portsmouth High School —either inside the building itself or in Trojan Arena.
As for the game, 20-1 Minford held a 33-32 lead following a fast-paced first half —as the contest was soon enough declared a “no contest” and will not resume.
Both Portsmouth and Minford begin Division III sectional tournament play this week, including the Trojans on Tuesday night at Peebles.
But Shoemaker, who was the Portsmouth head coach for three seasons prior to Collins taking over and him taking over at Minford, said in a text message late Friday night that the record needed set straight.
Shoemaker said Portsmouth “gets a bad rap sometimes, but their employees did everything right and made sure we were safe. It is important for people to hear from both of us (Shoemaker and Collins) that Portsmouth City Schools handled a crazy situation. They (Portsmouth) did nothing wrong and were assisting us in our time of need. They helped all involved.”
With that, Shoemaker and Collins requested a joint in-person interview with The Portsmouth Daily Times, which took place on Saturday morning.
Shoemaker said “social media goes crazy, but Portsmouth City Schools were there to help us”.
Both coaches first described what they saw from across the gym, which Collins said “I just happened to look over and started seeing people running”.
“They stopped the game and said we needed to clear the gym. At that point, I had no idea whether it was a fight or an active shooter or what was going on. We immediately went into clearing the gym, and the hallways were just a madhouse. We were just putting people in the locker room,” he said. “We had kids, we had young kids, we had parents, we had grandparents. Just trying to get everybody out of the gym until we actually figured out what was going on.”
Shoemaker said “someone said gun, and we just looked at our team and said get out of here immediately. We were able to get everyone, all players and cheerleaders, to the locker room immediately.”
“All these active shooter drills that we do, they kick in in those instances. For these kids, it’s how important these are for them to react and not stall and think,” said Shoemaker, who is also the principal of the Scioto County Career Technical Center.
And, since timing is everything, Collins added — in fact —the Portsmouth district conducted extensive active shooter training on Friday.
“It was fresh in my mind. I sat through six hours of training yesterday. So it immediately kicked in to get people out of the line of fire,” said Collins. “My thought was there were a lot of people in the hallways that don’t know which way to go with exits or doors locked or doors closed or whatever. I knew if we could get people in the locker rooms, if it really got that serious, we could lock the locker=room door from the inside. Any person trying to get in the locker room that way would have to have a key to get in. It was in my mind to get people out of the hallway and into a locker room.”
Collins and Shoemaker have been “friends for a long time”, and both were on the same staff.
“It’s no longer Minford and Portsmouth. It becomes his kids and my kids and his fans and my fans,” said Collins. “You are trying to get everybody out of the line of fire and safe.”
Once all individuals were accounted for for the Falcons, Shoemaker spoke on the public address for Minford parents to report to the locker room to locate their student-athletes.
But Shoemaker praised Portsmouth’s handling of the situation, time and again.
“We’re taking care of ours and they are taking care of theirs, but then Portsmouth comes in our locker room. (Portsmouth High School Principal) Doug Poage was in our locker room the entire time. Gene (Collins) comes down the hallway. There were so many that were worried about our kids, and at the same time, they had to worry about theirs. They stayed with us in the locker room, we got all of our stuff ready, they escorted us all to the bus,” he said. “Portsmouth PD, everyone cared about us as well as caring about their own kids. This could happen anywhere. So for the situation that happened, Portsmouth City Schools did the best for our safety.”
Collins concurred, as he said “we (Portsmouth City Schools District) do a lot of active shooter training”.
He added that “relationships on both sides (Minford and Portsmouth) made it really easy to go into active status and get people safe.”
Specifically, Collins gave a “hats off” to Portsmouth High School Principal Doug Poage, Portsmouth High School Athletic Director Joe Albrecht and Portsmouth High School Assistant Athletic Director Jason Van Deusen for Friday night’s actual involvement —and to Portsmouth City Schools Superintendent Scott Dutey.
“Mr. Dutey allowed me to come do this interview today, so I appreciate the support we’ve received from the district,” said Collins.
Indeed, on a night that went wrong, plenty parties agree that Portsmouth High’s athletic department did right.
“This was a real world lesson. You can’t stop crazy, but how you react to it will determine possibly whether you live or die,” said Shoemaker. “Luckily, no one was hurt. Moving forward, we need to take these situations very seriously.”