School and county officials are working to smooth the process of facilitating football games at Windermere High’s off-campus stadium.
The Windermere Wolverines’ first home game against the West Orange Warriors was certainly one to remember.
The rain cleared just in time for fans to pack the stands at — and the roads around — Deputy Scott Pine Community Park Friday, Aug. 17. The Wolverines scored their first touchdown of the season, putting them on the scoreboard, and fans went wild. Additionally, Windermere fans got to show off their new, eight-acre football stadium.
Everyone was excited, but with anything new comes a learning curve. The 200 on-site parking spaces and overflow lot filled up more than an hour before kickoff, and many fans either sat in their cars or on a shuttle bus to the stadium in heavy traffic.
“Some people are going to be frustrated with riding on the bus and the traffic situation, but the truth is I’ve sat in longer lines trying to get into the Amway Center in downtown Orlando,” said District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey. “Anytime you get an event that draws a lot of people, you’re going to have traffic that goes with it. Obviously, there’s going to be some kinks that have to be worked out, and we’ll work with our partners at Orange County Public Schools to make sure that it runs smoothly. But given kind of a first blush and what I’ve seen so far, it’s kind of exceeding expectations. I thought it would be a lot tougher.”
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said about six deputies and three OCPS police officers were on duty to manage traffic and pedestrian flow.
“Whenever you try to get as many people in at one time as you’re doing here, you’re going to have traffic congestion,” Demings said. “For years, I managed the special operations for the law-enforcement response at the Citrus Bowl, and … that’s a major event with hundreds of law-enforcement officers working, and you still have traffic. This is what happens when you have a major gathering like this.”
Another challenge faced by school and county leaders and fans was the amount of seating in the stadium. Many fans had to stand along the sides of the stadium because the seating areas were filled. Band members, cheerleaders and dancers all stood on the track throughout the game. And a lack of space made it impractical for the West Orange marching band to attend the game.
“The challenge is going to be seating in the stadium, and we knew that,” VanderLey said. “We deferred to OCPS in terms of what their typical package is for a stadium and stadium seating for a new high school. We don’t do stadiums, so we had to count on them to tell us what they need.”
Windermere color-guard parent Melissa Cress was not surprised by the high attendance.
“Last year with all of our games being away, we didn’t get to have this crowd,” Cress said. “It’s nice that they’re here supporting us, and it’s nice to see school board members and people from the county here. But having us in this crowded stadium is kind of unfortunate, because I would like to see all of these people over here sitting down and watching from the front — not only the football players who are out there working hard but the band kids and the cheerleaders and the dancers. … It would be nice if we could grow the stadium a little bit or move on campus.”
Other issues included procedures in the case of a lightning delay or thunderstorm and lack of shelter. The typical procedure for a lightning delay is to stop the game and evacuate a stadium if there is a lightning strike within a five-mile radius. In Windermere’s case, the lightning-strike radius was increased to 20 miles to have more time to evacuate attendees.
“No one is ignoring this, and no one is naïve enough to think that this doesn’t come with some problems, but to the extent that we can plan, we are; to the extent that we have funding to address things, we are,” VanderLey said. “We’re going to learn.”