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Clemson thrilled with new automatic goal posts

Posted: Thursday September 9, 2004 4:57PM; Updated: Thursday September 9, 2004 5:14PM
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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- Amid the celebration that followed Clemson's 37-30 double-overtime win against Wake Forest last Saturday, big Tiger defensive end Mo Fountain turned to watch the goal posts.

He heard the school was the first in the nation to install remote-controlled, hydraulic goal posts at Death Valley and didn't want to miss the show.

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Moments after the final whistle, several security people outlined where the posts would lay on the ground and -- voila! -- they collapsed in seconds just as advertised.

"Wow," Fountain said, "that was something."

And a far cry from the chaos and mob scene that ruled Memorial Stadium in November 2002. After Clemson's 27-20 victory over archrival South Carolina, fans swarmed the field and -- like college football fans have done for years after big games -- went for the goal posts.

Security officers tried to protect the structures to no avail. An Anderson County reserve deputy Homer Booth found himself at the bottom of a pile with a collarbone and some ribs broken. A female student had a mild concussion. Several other injuries not initially reported were detailed in a task force put together by Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips days after the horrifying scene.

The new goal posts, purchased from a West Virginia company S5 Sports and costing $50,000, are the latest measure to protect football fans at Clemson games.

"That officer who got hurt, that girl who had the concussion, we knew we couldn't let that continue," Phillips said.

The most effective way to stop such problems is to ban fans from the field entirely. At Clemson, though, there's been a long tradition of fans mingling with players and coaches following games. In the wake of the South Carolina chaos, Phillips went so far as to say Clemson supporters had lost their rights to go on the field before he apologized and backed off the stance.

"Terry Don looked at me and, 'Katie, it ain't going to happen,' and I looked at him and said, 'Terry Don, it ain't going to happen.' Our people want to go on the field," said Katie Hill, Clemson's senior associate athletic director.

Instead, Clemson administrators came up with "Gathering at the Paw," a crowd-control plan to funnel those heading to the field through an entrance furthest away from the locker rooms, then direct them to the Tiger Paw logo on the 50-yard line to sing the alma mater.

Still, when Clemson knocked off No. 3 Florida State 26-10 last November, joyous fans rushed the field and tore down the goal posts within minutes. Officials reported a few minor injuries. "Nothing on the scale of South Carolina," Phillips said.

He knew more precautions were needed. After investigating several types of collapsible systems, Clemson settled on one created by football official James L. Snider. The system cost $30,000 with another $20,000 required for the foundations.

Snider, a high school football referee, had demonstrated a half-scale prototype for West Virginia officials last year when he heard Clemson was in the market for a collapsible system. He contacted Gary Wade, assistant athletic director for facilities, and soon had his first contract.

Snider was at Death Valley last Saturday and waited out the overtime like an expectant father. "Everything was culminating in that one event," Snider said by phone. "Everything went great. The goal posts went down on cue and the students didn't even touch them."

As the hydraulic posts collapsed Saturday, fans rushed to the center of the field without so much as a passing glance at the metal structure.

Even if fans are intent on carrying off a trophy, Snider says the main system detaches the crossbar and uprights so nothing is torn apart. Such replacement parts cost between $1,500 and $2,000.

"I don't think anyone wants to let fifteen hundred dollars get in the way of someone being injured," Snider said.

Snider says he has had contact from officials at Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Ohio State about his system. Georgia Tech representatives told Snider they would watch the goal post system closely when the Yellow Jackets play at Clemson on Saturday night.

"We really believe they were effective and a safe alternative," Phillips said.

Booth, who has not worked a Clemson game since his injury, hopes the measures improve fan safety. He worries that determined, frenzied students who want to make mayhem will continue to do so.

Booth, a barber, says he still has trouble raising his right arm. Mentally, he's gotten past the bad memories of what he describes as a riot. The last thing he remembers from that night was a voice on the radio yelling, "Get the hell out of there."

Booth would like to see Clemson officials ban fans from the field altogether. "They say it's for tradition's sake," he said. "So they're going to keep doing it."

It's going to take time for students and fans to grow accustomed to the new tradition, Phillips said. Also, he says school officials won't ever ease up on making Death Valley as safe an experience as possible. "I believe rushing the goal posts at Clemson is a moot issue," Phillips said.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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