AURORA, Colo. — A football game between Aurora Central High School and Rangeview High School is on pause after Aurora Public Schools (APS) said "numerous fights broke out with less than 10 minutes left in the game."
What exactly happened that night varies greatly depending on who is explaining what they witnessed.
Principals from both schools sent a letter the following day to their communities. In it, APS said the confrontation started between a few players, and led to spectators jumping the barriers and fighting. The letter continues to say smaller fights trailed into the parking lot, until the crowd was cleared from the stadium.
"We want to be able to safely have fans watch our games and support our athletes," the letter reads. "However, we will be unable to do so if spectators cause trouble."
The letter called the behavior at the game wrong and reprehensible. It says nobody was seriously injured.
The Rangeview Raider Review is a student media publication for Rangeview High School. An article from Sept. 16 titled "Late hit, Unruly Fans Cause Postponement of Rangeview, Aurora Central Football Clash" said the Rangeview Raider Review "begrudgingly" is withholding the article temporarily following a request from administrators.
As of Monday, the article was posted by the Rangeview Raider Review. The article says "coaching staffs from both teams attempted to ensure their players wouldn’t partake in the violence, but Aurora Central fans hopped over the fence that separates the spectators from the field, creating a wild scene."
The student article continues to say "while players and coaches cannot go on the record, there appears to be a genuine fear from players that outsiders pose life-threatening danger."
The YouTube channel associated with the Rangeview Raider Review also has two videos posted showing the moments of the game right before the fight started, along with one depicting what appears to be the chaotic moments after spectators jumped the barriers.
Mark Young said he was one of the football officials calling the game that night. Young has spent 13 seasons with the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) and is a member of the Denver Football Officials Association. Despite the countless games he has worked, Young said the game on Thursday night was unlike any other.
“The main reason was the coaches. Head coaches and assistant coaches for both schools, on both sidelines, were behaving in a way that certainly isn't what we ever want to see in any sports or activity," Young said. “We tried to control the game early on, had sideline discussions with the head coaches, and another discussion at halftime... After halftime, things really deteriorated. We threw eight personal foul penalties within a span of about five minutes.”
Young said one player pushed another one out of bounds, hard. That's when Young said the fight started.
“He was laying by the bench, with his head almost under the bench," Young said about the player who was pushed out of bounds. "The Aurora Central player was kicking him. And then he jumped on top of him and started punching him in the neck, under the helmet. And that's when I went further into the endzone, to help try to stop that. And as soon as I took a couple steps, I got rushed by a big mob.”
Young said he hit his head in the fall, which resulted in a welt. He was dizzy and shaken while on the ground, and said what was so troubling was that no one stopped or tried to help.
“As I looked up, I saw one of the Rangeview coaches throwing punches on a player," Young said. "Just couldn't believe it. It was surreal.”
Young said he attempted to get up, but was hit again.
"Probably the hardest hit I've ever taken. I've played football and wrestled. It felt very intentional, that I got leveled back down to the track," Young said. “The next phase of it was that the fans came over the fence.”
More than the physical impacts, Young said the trauma of the incident is what has been on his mind.
“It's kind of a microcosm of a symptom of problems that are pervasive in football, particularly, but it certainly exists in other sports," Young said. “I want to be sure that this incident is investigated fully. Because of the seriousness of it, the assaults that occurred, the violence, the ramifications of it, and I want them to really examine the coach's behavior throughout this game.”
Young said the officials made the decision to suspend the game, and claims some of the coaches began yelling at them.
“When it becomes personal and you feel physically threatened, you, of course, immediately say, is it worth it? How did we get here? Where are the role models?” Young said. “We see this during the games, public shaming. And that it's OK, it's modeled. And then of course, we see this repeated quite often among the players, so that they treat their opposing team in that manner, and even their own teammates in that manner. It's not OK.”
Young said he believes sports should be treated as an extension of the ideals taught in the classroom. However, he feels there can be a disconnect between the two in some athletics programs.
“It certainly does contribute to why we have so few officials, in general, willing to essentially volunteer their time and talent and expertise for essentially nothing," he said.
After the story with Young's interview on Sunday, Denver7 received a handful of calls and emails from coaches associated with both teams, claiming Young's account of the incident was inaccurate.
We spoke with one coach who requested to interview anonymously.
“It was a normal football play," the coach said. “There's no punches thrown by coaches, or by players. There is some shoving and coaches did restrain other people or other players.”
The coach called Young's accounts of what happened that night a misrepresentation of the entire Aurora community. He said Young's claims are false.
“I'm doing this because I care about the community. I've been here most of my adult life. And honestly, both Central, Rangeview, the other Aurora schools, they don't deserve this reputation," said the coach. “The majority of everything that happened was in the parking lot afterwards, which is a whole different story.”
The coach does not believe the game should be resumed. He said there have been threats since Thursday related to the game and that some players do not feel safe.
On Monday, APS released another statement regarding the incident from Thursday.
We are aware of the allegation that was made by a game official that a coach punched a player. Please know that we have reached out to the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) and the Denver Football Officials Association and we are unaware of any information that would substantiate this claim.
We want to emphasize that we are extremely proud of how our coaches handled the game and a tough situation. All of our coaches worked to get players back to their benches and did a great job keeping our teams focused on the game.
Our focus remains on supporting our athletes, teams and school communities. We ask others to do the same.
The Aurora Police Department (APD) said the "disturbance" began on the field and "involved one player trying to punch another player after a tackle." The initial disturbance caused multiple others both inside and outside the stadium. Aurora police officers were called to the school to help clear the parking lot.
In the first response about the incident from the police department, a spokesperson wrote that "no one actually fought and there were no injuries." Those with the department were not able to find any reports of assault related to the football game. However, the spokesperson said it is possible there were reports filed at a different time or under a different case number.
APD said pepper spray was used to help clear the parking lot, but that it was not sprayed by Aurora police officers.
"It's not clear if it was APS Security Officers or someone else," the response reads.
School resource officers will determine what, if any, charges are appropriate, according to APD. As of Sunday, a summons has not been issued for anyone, but the case is still open.
In the letter sent to both schools, APS said they will be talking with their students this week about aggressive behavior and the impact it could have on future events. The schools will also reexamine game protocols. Their top priority is the safety of their students, staff, and families.
The game has been postponed, and the schools are evaluating when it could be rescheduled.
CHSAA sent a statement to Denver7 on Monday, saying they are aware of the situation and are waiting to hear from the school district as they gather more details.