By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
After the Vandegrift girls soccer team made history on Saturday by winning the first-ever UIL soccer, state public school championship in the Austin area, a Georgetown police officer’s handling of the postgame celebration has brought nationwide attention to the game.
As time expired, students and fans dropped down from the visitors side bleachers and began rushing the field, despite the public address announcer’s warnings to stay off the field. Georgetown police officer George Bermudez, who was on duty and in uniform at the stadium, was recorded on several videos allegedly tripping one person, attempting to trip another, restraining another and pushing yet another as students poured onto the field. One student hit the ground and then limped away.
“They’re kids… you don’t have to treat them like that,” a soccer fan in the bleachers said while watching the incident unfold.
On Monday, Bermudez was put on paid administrative leave while a misconduct investigation is underway.
Steiner Ranch resident Nancy Phillips, whose daughter Bailey is a senior on the team, thinks the incident was a series of unfortunate events.
“The problem began when students at Friday’s semifinal game asked a security officer on duty whether they could rush the field if the team won Saturday, and he gave them permission,” she said.
Perhaps he wasn’t aware that announcements would be made to the contrary, Phillips said.
“The security officer who is now the subject of a national media frenzy did not know that the students thought they were allowed to rush the field,” she said.
Pam Waggoner, Leander ISD board president, was on the field but did not witness the officer’s actions.
“The students were just celebrating the soccer teams victory. It was only 30-50 kids and it was not chaotic,” Waggoner said.
Phillips thinks Bermudez was caught off-guard and in trying to do his job — protect the team, officials, and coaches from the crowd — overreacted and used poor judgment.
“While announcements were made about unauthorized personnel staying off the field, I could barely hear them myself — so I don’t know how the students could have, because they were cheering so loudly,” Phillips said.
The Georgetown Police Department was inundated with calls from concerned parents and media inquiries from all over about Bermudez, who was officer of the year last year.
On Monday night, Georgetown Police Chief Wayne Nero released a statement that said, in part, “After personally watching the videos, the actions of my officer are very concerning to me as well.”
However, Waggoner said the event was a UIL event and the UIL is conducting its own assessment and will give an evaluation soon.
Going forward, Phillips said, the UIL should revisit its practice of prohibiting post-game on-field celebrations and instead work with security to safely monitor excited high school students.
She adds that security needs to be on the same page, properly trained in crowd management, and communicating clearly with each other and with whom they are protecting.
“Mistakes were made; lessons should be learned; now, let’s get back to the real story. Congratulations, Lady Vipers,” Phillips said.
“I am always going to support our kids when they are supporting each other. It was a terrific atmosphere. I am certainly glad our students were not hurt badly and I just want to continue to rejoice in their win.”