Described by a spokesman as a “terribly unfortunate coincidence,” the Florida High School Athletic Association held last weekend’s girls state basketball tournament in the same convention center where firearms were being bought and sold at a gun show.
Both hoops fans and gun aficionados filed into Lakeland’s RP Funding Center for their respective events, creating an awkward situation less than a month after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The murders set off a prolonged debate about gun control across the country, but the epicenter has remained the Sunshine State as high school students have mobilized to pressure state legislators for stricter gun control.
The proximity of both events raised eyebrows from participants in the state basketball tournament, which featured Davie-Nova — a high school located about 20 miles from Stoneman Douglas — playing for the 8A championship. One fan tweeted her disgust at seeing a free admission sign for the gun show at the center while Nova’s head coach expressed surprise at seeing someone with a “big rifle” as he stepped off the team bus.
“It caught me off-guard,” Nova coach Jason Hively told the Sun Sentinel. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Whatever your feeling is on the Second Amendment, I don’t think the two mesh here.”
“I think after Stoneman Douglas — to be honest, I was a little disappointed to see it. If you’re holding an athletic event for kids to promote sportsmanship, personally I don’t think it’s a good look for parents, kids and fans to walk into a venue that’s being shared with people carrying assault rifles. I don’t think [a gun show] should be held at the same time you’re holding a state tournament.”
A video shot by Seth Soffian of the News Press and posted to Twitter showed people walking through the hallways of the convention center carrying firearms. A youth dancing competition was also being held in the building.
— Seth Soffian (@NewsPressSeth) March 3, 2018
Had Parkland not happened, it still would have seemed inappropriate to host a big high school event in the same building a gun show. But FHSAA executive director George Tomyn told the Sun Sentinel on Saturday that while the coincidence was “unfortunate” the FHSAA attempts “to stay as neutral as possible on politically charged events.” Tomyn said the organization was not actively discussing preventing such a coincidence from happening in the future.
On Tuesday, FHSAA spokesman Kyle Niblett told the Palm Beach Post that the organization had “expressed our strong desire to never have the events coincide again.” With only 12 days separating the Parkland shootings and the start of the state tournament, relocating this year’s tournament was an impossibility, Niblett said.
The two events are not expected to be held at the same time in 2019.
Tony Camarillo, an official with RP Funding Center, told the Post that it was aware of the conflict and that it presented a problematic situation within the current climate. He said the center and FHSAA worked together to provide an extra police presence “to give people a sense that we understood the gravity of the situation.”