Police: Teen ‘fight club’ staging brawls in rural Ala.

Police: Teen ‘fight club’ staging brawls in rural Ala.

By JAY REEVES
Associated Press Writer
FORT PAYNE, Ala. (AP) — Authorities in a rural county are trying to bust what they describe as a teen fight club that is drawing crowds to brutal bouts that allegedly include gambling, a championship bracket and videotaping, with DVDs of the action going for $5.
Students say the fight club is real, yet they contend authorities are blowing it out of proportion.
Ronnie Crabtree couldn’t believe the beating a boy took from another youth in a video confiscated by a teacher at Fort Payne High School, located in the northeastern corner of Alabama.
“This guy was about 40 pounds bigger than the other one, and he had him down by the neck and was just hitting him over and over,” said Crabtree, the principal. “It was brutal. It was appalling.”
Authorities aren’t aware of any serious injuries, and they haven’t made any arrests.
“I’m not sure that it’s illegal if two people agree to get together and have a fight,” said Police Chief Roger Byrd of Rainsville, where at least one fight was held.
But investigators suspect there has been gambling in at least a few fights, and state law prohibits betting on fights. Also, felony charges could result from any serious injury or death.
“It could become a death penalty case,” Byrd said Wednesday.
Videos of teens fighting aren’t anything new — they’re all over YouTube. What troubles authorities about the DeKalb County fight club is the apparent level of organization, which resembles a business as much as anything.
Organizers are using cell phones and mass-blast text messaging to quickly draw crowds, which disperse as fast as they appear, police say. Admission may be charged, they say, and fight videos have been offered for $5 each at schools.
Investigators said they haven’t had much success in getting teens to break a code of silence that surrounds the fights, but they believe the matchups are more than just random pairings.
“They are calling it the fight club,” said Fort Payne Police Chief David Walker. “Supposedly they have a bracket. They’re working their way to a championship.”
Walker said the fights are inspired by TV shows including Ultimate Fighting Championship, which features bouts with punching, kicking and wrestling.
Students from at least three and as many as five of the county’s nine high schools are believed to be involved, Walker said. Fights have been held at sites including homes, the parking lot of the local newspaper and the tiny Rainsville Golf and Country Club.
Dana Brown said she hasn’t seen evidence of a big fight at the golf course, where she works, but she did notice something odd one afternoon a few weeks ago: A small group of shirtless teens sparring on the No. 3 tee box.
“It wasn’t anything serious. It was like they were kick boxing. It almost looked like they were dancing,” Brown said in an interview.
Some of the fights have been between students from Fort Payne and Plainview High School in Rainsville, where students who agreed to talk about the fights didn’t want their names made public.
“It’s just like friends getting together to box. There’s no gambling. They’re making it out to be more than it is,” said one student, a senior.
Another youth agreed that police are overreacting, but he also said he warned some of the participants that the fight club could get out of hand.
“It’s retarded. I told them if they kept it up it was going to blow up, and now it has,” he said.
Police believe at least 20 fights have been staged in DeKalb County since early March, with some drawing crowds of as many as 50 people. Rumors floating around school halls led to the police investigation.
“I think there are probably a lot more watchers than participants,” said Fort Payne School Superintendent Jimmy Cunningham. “(But) it’s a concern we have. That’s why it was elevated from our school to the police.”
Published in The Messenger 4.25.08

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