FHSAA: Basketball tournament, gun show overlap ‘terrible coincidence’

12:06 p.m Tuesday, March 6, 2018 Sports
The FHSAA girls basketball tournament concluded Saturday at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, which was also the site of a gun show. The overlapping of the events, less than two weeks after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, was upsetting to some.

Brooke Levy, a senior at Davie-Nova High, traveled to Lakeland to support her sister, Jamie, and her friend, Erin Gutierrez, as they played for the Class 8A girls basketball championship on Saturday.

When she walked into the RP Funding Center, she saw a sign advertising another event going on in the same venue: a gun show. In the wake of last month’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in nearby Parkland, where the alleged gunman used an AR-15 rifle to kill 17 people, Levy tweeted that the gun show taking place at the same time was “disgusting.”

“I think that it is unacceptable that there was a gun show happening in the same venue and time as the tournament,” Levy wrote in a Twitter message on Monday. “Personally, as a high school student from Broward County, stricter gun control is something I am very passionate about.”

Levy said she saw people carrying rifles openly in the parking lot, and when she was inside, she said she spoke to Douglas girls basketball coach Marilyn Rule about how the Douglas students are still on a shortened schedule following the shooting.

POST EXCLUSIVE: Marilyn Rule, husband, son survived shooting

“They are still acclimating to an environment that should be one of the most natural places for them,” Levy said. “It is absolutely disgusting that this is the case, and that the weapons that caused this were being sold just a couple hundred feet away.

“Seeing people openly carrying ARs, right in front of me, just confirmed my anger at the Florida legislature, who continues (sic) to fail to protect their constituents.”

Florida High School Athletic Association spokesman Kyle Niblett said in an email that the two events coinciding was a “terribly unfortunate coincidence,” and with only 12 days between the shooting and the girls basketball tournament starting, rescheduling or postponing either event was “logistically not possible.” He said that the FHSAA would like to prevent the two events from coinciding in the future.

“The FHSAA has expressed our strong desire to never have the events coincide again,” Niblett said. “We have been told that as of right now, the gun show next year is not scheduled for the same time as the Florida High School Basketball State Championships.”

The RP Funding Center’s executive director, Tony Camarillo, said the gun show was likely booked about a year in advance. There was an extra police presence at the venue during the gun show, Camarillo said.

“We had conversations with the FHSAA and told them what our plan would be, which is basically upping the police presence to give people a sense that we understood the gravity of the situation,” he said. “We do understand the severity of what took place, and we wanted to do our best to be prepared.”

The RP Funding Center is a facility that includes a 100,000-square-feet meeting and exhibition center, an 8,178-seat arena and a 2,296-seat theater. The boys state basketball tournament is being held at the arena this week and, according to its website, other events scheduled at the RP Funding Center during the six-day tournament include a show by the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers Chorus, a performance of The Wizard of Oz, and a dance competition. The next gun show is scheduled for April 14-15.

No Palm Beach County teams played at the same time as the gun show on Saturday and Sunday. The two local teams that qualified, Grandview Prep and Oxbridge Academy, were done playing by Thursday.

Oxbridge athletic director Patrick Hollern chose not to comment for this story, but Grandview girls basketball coach Ian Clarke said that he would have felt uncomfortable if the gun show was held while he and his team were playing.

“It would’ve been something that we really wouldn’t want to face at that time,” Clarke said, “because some of the girls, they were still taking it hard because of their friends over there.”