Longhorn Stampede: Lack of seating leads to chaos in stadium

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Crowds rushed into Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium Saturday as gates opened for the Texas v Louisiana State University football game on Saturday, Sept. 7. 2019. Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte later apologized in a statement, asserting fan safety as a top priority.

Photo Credit: Jamie Hwang | Daily Texan Staff

Long before No. 9 Texas squared off against No. 6 LSU, a stampede of students crowded around the gates of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. 

As the gates opened, thousands of students rushed into the stadium in an attempt to secure a seat for the biggest home game of the year. 

“The gates started opening around 4:25-ish, then people started pushing,” senior journalism major Miranda Larralde said. “Me and my friends tried to link arms … but I ended up losing four of my friends and staying with just one of them.”

Due to the magnitude of the game, which included ESPN’s College GameDay making a stop on the Forty Acres, seats in the student section were limited. The University sent an email to the student body on Sept. 5 giving directions to students concerning when and where to enter. According to the email,  “All student seating is general admission and available on a first come, first served basis.”

It was anticipated that the game would be one of high demand, so UT told its students that having a “Big Ticket” did not guarantee access into the game. As a result, students took action. Many students began to line up outside of the stadium nearly eight hours before kickoff to attempt to secure a spot in the stadium.

As for home games, the plan to scan student IDs holding students’ Big Ticket and assign wristbands to allow students to fill into the designated student section went by the wayside, causing a chaotic game day scene.

The stampede of students at every gate allowed students to forgo showing identification to stadium staff, causing the staff to have to wait until students found their seats to pass out wristbands.

“I did see the security trying to check tickets, but there were just too many people running in,” Larralde said. “People were just waving their IDs trying to show that that’s their ticket to get in because they couldn’t physically get over to the person to get them to check the ticket.”

As the students ran in to get to the seats, many were stuck in the foot traffic. Some were trampled over, and the closeness through which students were moving created a dangerous environment.

“It was scary in the moment because of the overheating situation,” said Summer Fathke, a sophomore radio-television-film major. “There were people surrounding you everywhere and no way to get out.”

Fathke said before she and her friends got to their seats, her vision filled with black spots. Some students, including friends of Larralde and Fathke, sustained bruises when entering the stadium. Fathke also said that she “couldn’t breathe” when she was getting to her seat.

One of the reasons for UT’s severely overcrowded student section is the construction of the South End Zone, which removes nearly 4,000 seats from the stadium.

Monday evening, UT vice president and athletics director Chris Del Conte released a statement concerning the situation. 

“We are aware of the concerns about safety regarding the entrance into the stadium and crowding in our student sections at last Saturday’s big game,” Conte said. “Our fans’ safety is paramount to us, and we appreciate those who reached out and certainly hear your concerns.” 

The stampede not only put a strain on the students — some of whom had been at the stadium since 11 a.m. and weren’t admitted in — but also on a severely outnumbered stadium staff.

“They should’ve brought on more people because the staff looked scared,” Fathke said.