Athletes and coaches often get frustrated when practices are cancelled due to inclement weather. But feelings were different ten years ago when a series of shootings in the D.C. area caused all MCPS outdoor activities to be cancelled.
This month marks the ten-year anniversary of the Beltway sniper attacks that killed 10 and injured another three over a span of three weeks in October 2002.
Although some students were still in preschool at the time of the shootings, many Whitman coaches have vivid memories from that fall 2002 season. The three-week period made Montgomery County the center of attention for national media outlets and frightened residents to the point that people were afraid to go outside.
After it became clear that the attacks were all occurring in public and exposed places, administrators temporarily suspended the open-lunch policy for seniors. Coaches had to schedule practice time inside the gymnasium or find other indoor locations.
“It was a very tense situation,” said varsity football coach Jim Kuhn, whose team practiced inside the gym for three straight weeks. “It was a no-win situation for everybody.”
After the shooting suspects were arrested, the football team played three makeup games in a period of 10 days, including a win against Churchill where the Vikings sent multiple players to the hospital due to hypothermia. MCPS had been forced to condense and shift the season despite the cold weather so teams would be eligible to compete in regional and state championship games.
While teams like football, volleyball and soccer were able to practice indoors during the time of the shootings, cross country was not as fortunate. Since the sport requires athletes to run long distances and complete hill and track workouts, runners had to improvise and run in the hallways, a surface not conducive to training.
“There was nothing we could do,” coach Steve Hays said. “Everyone was fearful of being outside during the day.”
The team was not allowed to participate in any meets, including those hosted in other states, and the county championship race was moved to a secluded park with a heavy police presence.
“It was a really depressing time,” Hays said. “It was so real— I’ve never felt so affected by something in my life.”