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Area School Teams Take Long Road Trips to Avoid Sniper

Because of the Washington-area sniper, high school football coach Tommy Meier spent Friday trying to organize a "home" game that will take place 100 miles away.

"Just like everybody else, our world's been turned upside down," said the coach of the Hornets at Herndon High School.

For the last two weeks in the Washington area, virtually all outdoor school activities -- games, practices, homecoming events, even the daily lunchtime recess -- have been canceled, postponed or moved inside because of a serial sniper who has killed nine people and wounded two others since Oct. 2.

The frustration has led to stir-crazy students and extreme measures to pull off something as basic as a football game. On Saturday, Herndon and most of the other high schools in northern Virginia's Fairfax County are going to play again -- but they're having to travel far and wide to do it.

For security reasons, school officials asked that the venues for the games not be published. Meier and his team will board their buses at 2 p.m. for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Their opponent, just 10 miles from Herndon, will do the same.

"It's not what you signed on for as a head football coach," Meier said. "It's been scheduling nightmares and disappointment and safety issues. It hasn't been about pro formations and coverage."

The Washington Redskins went ahead with their game last week, but with significantly increased security.

The high schools are on edge. The debate has intensified among parents, students and teachers over whether the sniper should be allowed to shut everything down.

"You get 50-50," Meier said. "You have parents that are very guarded and saying, `Hey, it's only football. It's not the end of the world. My son is safe.' As a coach, I agree."

On the other hand, Meier has heard from parents frustrated that their sons are missing out on their once-in-a-lifetime senior year of football, who feel that life should go on with an extra risk that is statistically minimal.

The debate is often punctuated by a sobering thought: What if the sniper is never caught?

"When do you go back to your normal life?" Meier asked.

In Anne Arundel County, Md., normal life meant holding a girl's field hockey county championship game Friday, on condition that everyone be off the grounds by 6 p.m. The game originally had been scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m.

In Prince George's County, Md., where the sniper shot and seriously wounded a 13-year-old boy outside his school last week, officials considered holding all high school games at three stadiums. But in the end, it was decided that even focusing security measures at just three sites was not sufficient. All games remain canceled.

Area colleges have had a mixed response. George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., will have extra security for a family weekend, highlighted Saturday by a soccer game against the University of Maryland, but no events have been altered.

Howard and Catholic universities are playing their football games as scheduled Saturday, but Gallaudet University had to switch its home game to an away game when Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Pennsylvania refused to come to Washington.

"Given the option of not playing or having to travel, we chose to travel," Gallaudet sports information director Richard Coco said.