Suddenly, a road race seems like bravery

April 20, 2013 

Last week’s horrific events in Boston give everyone pause.

Many knowledgeable people have known for years that terrorists were ogling sporting events as ripe targets. The idea predates 9/11.

It goes back easily as far as the 1972 Munch Olympics. Closer to home, the 1977 film “Black Sunday” foresaw an attack on a major football game.

Lest anyone thinks Chapel Hill is above a link between violence and sports, all should be reminded we’ve had violence at events before — albeit not on the scale or significance of what happened at Boston.

In the early 1970s, altercations between some small groups of Orange and Chapel Hill students prompted the schools to agree to play a varsity basketball game in a closed gym.

In the 1980s, violence between Durham and Chapel Hill high school students at a roller skating rink on the boulevard connecting the towns made officials contemplate postponing a football game.

Near the turn of the millennium, someone produced a gun at a football between archrivals Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill, causing a mini-panic under the stands.

Since then, security has been more apparent and tighter at CHHS-East football and basketball games, usually with metal detectors at the gates, accompanied by armed officers.

Meanwhile, the University of North Carolina campus has been the site of the occasional bomb threat.

All of these examples pale in comparison to the carnage near Copley Square. But they do show that Chapel Hill has suffered both public violence at sports venues and threats of larger problems.

The two were as yet unlinked, much to everyone’s relief.

No one yet was certain last week as to who actually planted the bombs along the Boston marathon route. But the act itself made everyone think twice and think yet again about security for road races.

That included this weekend’s Tar Heel 10 and Fleet Feet 4 races. They comprised Chapel Hill’s biggest crowds outside of North Carolina football and basketball games, with thousands of runners and spectators, miles of Chapel Hill streets affected and hundreds of cars shunted off to alternate routes.

When Carolina hosts a football game, Kenan Stadium is, de facto, one of the state’s 10th largest communities. The Tar Heel 10 was not as big as that, but big enough.

Chapel Hill and University of North Carolina public safety officers, in the wake of the Boston bombing, re-examined their plans for this weekend’s races. Both were in a heightened state of alert, as were EMS personnel.

Just how much anyone can do to prevent a determined or crazed individual remains to be seen. Just how safe any Chapel Hillian is while out running is an open-ended question.

It all seems relative. Athletes and spectators are 100 percent safe … until the day they aren’t.

For now, all any one can do is go on with our activities. Its not as if nothing happened; something did indeed happen; but people will still enter road races, attend football games and go one with our lives.

The alternative is to hide.

That won’t do much good. As any survivor of the London Blitz would tell you, the bombs will fall where they may.

London survived. So did Boston. So will Chapel Hill.

The important thing to remember is not just to survive, but to live without fear.

Warnock: 919-932-8743

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