Officials respond to shooting at high school football game with few concrete ideas

By: - August 29, 2023 6:00 am
A closeup shot of the flashing red lights of an ambulance

One student was killed Friday at the Choctaw-Del City football game, and two more people suffered gunshot wounds but survived. (Stock photo by Douglas Sacha/Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished unless you have a subscription to Getty.)

OKLAHOMA CITY – A loud pop of gunshots rang from the visitor’s side of the Choctaw High School football stadium. The screams of a terrified crowd followed as people fled or dropped to the ground.

The shooting at the Choctaw-Del City football game Friday left a 16-year-old student dead and two other people wounded. Two more teens were also injured as spectators ran in panic. 

While some state officials, including Gov. Kevin Stitt and Superintendent Ryan Walters, quickly condemned the violence, they offered few concrete ideas in the subsequent days about how to prevent gun violence at school athletic events — or anywhere else.

Another incident at an Oklahoma football game caused a scare the same night. Someone brandished a pistol at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, causing a stampede of fleeing attendees, according to a Tulsa Police Department report.

Oklahoma had the 12th-highest rate of firearm mortality in the nation in 2021, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and that rate’s been on the rise since at least 2018.

The Governor’s Office did not return a request for comment on proposals — such as legislation, firearm policies or funding — to prevent shootings and gun violence.

Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks at a lectern during a news conference.
Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference in the Oklahoma Capitol on July 31, 2023. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Oklahoma Voice)

In a statement the morning after the shooting in Choctaw, Walters called the incident “tragic.”

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is offering support and working with the school districts involved to get a more complete picture of what occurred, agency spokesperson Dan Isett said. 

As new information emerges, the agency will “look at ways to improve all safety measures for our students,” he said.

Isett noted two school safety measures introduced in the past to Oklahoma schools: a Rave panic button to contact police and a behavior threat assessment tool, which includes a set of protocols school officials can use to respond to a potential threat. It wasn’t clear from his responses whether either of those applied to high school football stadiums.

An extra $50 million a year in state funds is now available to hire more school resource officers across Oklahoma over the next three years. Each district will receive about $96,000.

Nine law enforcement officers were at the stadium in Choctaw on Friday night, local police reported. Two of them attempted emergency medical aid to save the 16-year-old Midwest City High School student who’d been shot.

The officers’ response time was excellent, but their presence didn’t deter the shooting, said Rick Cobb, superintendent of Midwest City-Del City Public Schools.

“The people involved in this fight that turned into gunshots, they didn’t care who was there,” Cobb said.


That’s why controlling who enters a stadium is a crucial measure, he said. Mid-Del schools had already boosted their security measures at football games this year by adding metal detectors and clear bag requirements on top of existing policies that allow entry only to students of the participating schools.

Cobb said he’s confident about the safety protocols at Mid-Del stadiums, but he can’t control what steps other districts choose to take. 

He suggested the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, which governs high school sports, require minimum standards of security as a condition of hosting future playoff games.

“This is in the aftermath of an event that has traumatized two of our high schools,” Cobb said. “I just feel like they need to look at ways that they can ensure people are safe.”

Choctaw-Nicoma Park Public Schools did not return a request for comment.

The OSSAA has direct control over security at playoff games only. Safety protocols for the rest of the season are managed by individual school districts, work they “do well every day,” said David Jackson, OSSAA executive director.

“The schools deal with security issues every day in keeping their kids safe at school,” Jackson said while speaking with reporters Monday. “They don’t need us to tell them how to keep people safe.”

Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma has relaxed firearm regulations while failing to invest enough in social, mental health and addiction recovery programs. Fugate represents the Midwest and Del cities area.

“All of the societal ills and things we could address, we’re just not doing it,” Fugate said. “Instead, we are taking angry and agitated people and encouraging them to walk around armed and dangerous.”


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Nuria Martinez-Keel
Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.