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School Officials Put Bite on Annual Student Food Fight : Tradition: The year-end rite escalated to punches and racial insults being hurled. Police were called and 11 students were suspended.

June 24, 1993|PSYCHE PASCUAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

DOWNEY — Administrators vowed this week to crack down on students who participate in an annual food fight at Downey High School, after a pelting match last week erupted into a brawl.

Police officers were called to break up the incident in which about 150 to 200 students were lobbing soda cans, burritos, ice, bananas, tomatoes, carrots, ketchup, mustard and paint at each other, officials said.

"It was raining bananas," said freshman Janane Henderson, 15. "I saw eggs flying."

A handful of students also threw punches after being pelted by cans of soda.

When the brawl ended, 11 students were suspended, including a 16-year-old boy who was arrested after allegedly throwing a can of soda at a squad car, police said. No charges have been filed.

Another 16-year-old student faces expulsion after a knife was discovered in his backpack, a school official said.

Students downplayed the annual food fight as a harmless sport that marks the end of school. It has become an unofficial, year-end rite of passage, they said.

"You've had pressure all year, and you just want to let loose," said sophomore Miguel Duarte, 16, who said he threw ice at a fellow student. "Some people laugh when they get hit."

Security on the 2,500-student campus was increased during the last few days of school, and teachers and administrators kept vigil over students during the last lunch period of the year on Monday.

School officials say they are alarmed by the escalating violence of the food fights.

Next year, any student who participates could be barred from attending graduation or extracurricular activities, Principal Phil Jones said.

"We're not putting up with that kind of behavior on this campus," he said. "I'm taking away privileges, whatever it will take."

The food-fight tradition began about four years ago when graduating seniors began taking lunches, condiments, fruits and vegetables to an open area of campus, Assistant Principal Alan Layne said.

"We just let them do their thing out there. They're told to clean up their mess and go home," he said.

Last year, an increasing number of freshmen, sophomores and juniors got involved in the fight, he said. Students also began bringing cameras and video equipment to record the event.

This year, some students became violent after racial insults were tossed along with food.

Half a dozen students were treated for bumps and bruises. Officials also confiscated some of the food students had smuggled onto campus, including a box of ripe bananas.

As news of the food-fight ban spread on campus this week, some students expressed dismay at the end of an era. Others said the ban is justified, given the behavior of the students involved.

"It happened last year and the year before, and it never got out of hand," said sophomore Wendie Beemer, 15. "But when you see people hurt and mad, it doesn't look like fun at all."

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