The name Campus Clash proved prophetic Wednesday night. After a extremely spirited, extremely loud but friendly competition among high-schoolers in the main sanctuary of The House Modesto church on Coffee Road, several fights occurred both inside and outside the building and hundreds of students ran wildly, according to authorities and observers.
Dozens of Modesto police and Stanislaus County sheriff’s units responded to the fracas shortly after 9 p.m. There were no reported injuries, and no arrests were made. “Several disturbances broke out inside and outside,” Modesto police Lt. Aaron Tait said. “But they dispersed as we approached.”
House Modesto youth pastor Micah Berteau, who co-emceed the Clash, said Thursday morning that he was troubled by the violence after the event. “It’s just sad for me that maybe 20 kids caused a disturbance that disrupted the other 2,500,” he said. “I don’t want everybody to focus on that – I’ve got stories from kids saying this was the highlight of their high school career.”
Kids were yelling, “Who is it? Who is it?” ... like they were running to see if someone was hurt. There were fights all around.
Jennifer Myrtakis, Beyer High parent who picked her son and friends up after the Campus Clash
The event has grown steadily by hundreds of teens each year since first held in 2013, Berteau said, and organizers have kept it open to all comers. “We’ve just found with so many kids, it’s hard for us to monitor every single one with their (student) ID. To counterbalance that, we have as much security as possible.”
The Campus Clash drew an estimated 2,700 students from Modesto City Schools high schools, as well as Escalon High. It began at 7 p.m. and was a virtually nonstop string of onstage competitions among the city’s various high schools, like a cheerleader obstacle course, a timed pizza-eating contest, a “Jeopardy”-style test of knowledge, a “wide receiver” pass-catching challenge and several more. It also included former San Francisco 49er Otis Amey as guest speaker. The winning school for the third year was Enochs High.
Beyer High sophomore Matthew Myrtakis attended with friends and said the Clash itself was well-organized and ran smoothly. He’d heard that at previous Clashes, there were a few fights afterward, which isn’t uncommon when students from a lot of rival campuses go to a student-related event.
The onstage hosts even warned students that fighting would not be tolerated. A slide projected for all to read said: “If you fight, your school will be disqualified and you will be suspended from school.” How that suspension threat would be backed up was unclear. Modesto City Schools spokeswoman Becky Fortuna said Campus Clash was not a district- or school-sponsored event and organizers did not discuss the rules with MCS.
Several disturbances broke out inside and outside, but they dispersed as we approached.
Modesto police Lt. Aaron Tait, on what happened after the Campus Clash
But leaving the event to be picked up by a parent, Myrtakis and classmates said they witnessed several fights and lots of kids running. “It was a little chaotic. ... I didn’t think it would get that rowdy.”
Though it took a few minutes for police to arrive, he said he and his friends didn’t feel personally threatened. One classmate said it was the most exciting part of the night: “It was lit.”
Myrtakis’ mother, Jennifer, who came to pick up the boys, found nothing exhilarating about it. “It was insane, it was out of control. If I knew if was going to be like that, I wouldn’t have let him go.”
When she arrived at The House, there appeared to be no traffic control, she said, and it took a few minutes just to get off Coffee Road into the parking lot. “I was about two car lengths into the lot and all of a sudden heard screaming and yelling – and my windows were up at that point. There were easily 200 kids running toward Coffee, and you saw – I assume they were House employees – them yelling, ‘Stop, turn around, go back,’ and kids were just going around them.”
Unable to move her car, she called her son on her phone to make sure he was OK and to get him to her. When able to drive, she saw the parking lot at the rear of the church was swarming with patrol cars, lights flashing. She saw officers standing in a line as if about to do a sweep. “The boys said police officers had their batons out.”
Matthew and his friends were unfazed by it all, Myrtakis said. “They want to go again, they’re all pumped for it.”
Last year, we had maybe about 2,000 and thought that was our cap. And then jump to close to 2,700, we’re considering what we need to do next year. We can’t fit that many kids in our building. ... We’ll need a place we can safely hold it, maybe a stadium.
Micah Berteau, House Modesto’s youth pastor, saying he’s been asked by a number of students not to stop hosting Campus Clash
In an email to The Bee ahead of the Campus Clash, Toby Bowker, House men’s pastor and director of Kingdom Men Ministries, said the Campus Clash brings schools together to compete to be the “Best in the 209.” Students wear their school colors, decorate the sanctuary with displays of school pride and “show unity in a time where division is crazy. It really does bring these schools and their students together.”
Inside and outside the building, House staffers were conducting security checks. An employee in a golf cart was seen stopping two young men to ensure that the canned beverages they carried were not alcohol. One House staffer commented during the event that security was on alert because there were a number of rough-looking youth attending.
“We’re a church for everyone. We’re going to love everyone who comes through our doors,” Berteau said. “We heard maybe there were some gang-affiliated kids there. ... But for two hours, they weren’t selling drugs or anything, they were listening to an ex-49er talk about Jesus.”
As the commotion died down Wednesday night following the Clash, Berteau said of what happened: “They’re like cattle – when one runs, all of them run and it gives the appearance of something. We love our cops and we have no problem getting them out here to protect our kids. We said, ‘Everyone you’ve got – get ’em here.’ ”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley contributed to this report.