Coalitions in Action: Ohio Coalition Scores a Touchdown by Changing Community Views on Alcohol

Massillon, Ohio is known for two things: football and tailgate parties. But when a 2012 football game resulted in 12 incidents, including fights, car crashes, underage drinking and theft, the community decided it was time for a change.

“It was such a shocking experience for so many different sectors of the community. It was an immediate conversation, ‘Can you believe this happened?’” recalled Fran Gerbig, project director of the Stark County Anti-Drug Coalition. “What could we do to address the problem? With assessment pieces already in place, we would find a solution to address the biggest impact of the problem.”

The first step began with the administration of Massillon City Schools, who with the help of the coalition, put in place a Fan Code of Conduct to be followed during football games, which prohibits behavior such abusive and foul language, and alcohol use.

To promote community awareness of responsible drinking, the coalition installed signs stating the Fan Code of Conduct on the school’s campus and collaborated with another coalition to hold a Drive Sober campaign. Several awareness events were held over the summer and at the first football game of the season at Massillon Stadium.

In addition, the local radio station did a live broadcast before prom and graduation season talking to students about the importance of sobriety. Several events were held at the school itself, stressing the same message about the risks of underage drinking. The coalition also advertised itself in youth sports programs throughout the county, providing resources about underage drinking prevention.

How successful were the efforts?

The environmental scan conducted by the coalition in 2012 recorded multiple incidents of underage drinking: tailgate parties and open consumption of alcohol on school property and in the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium; limited police presence; and no signage prohibiting alcohol on school property.

At the 2013 game, after one year of implementation of the Fan Code Conduct, the environmental scan found installation of Code Conduct signs; collaboration with city police; community awareness activities and just three game-related incidents: a parking violation, a crash and a disabled vehicle.

Although the 2014 environmental scan documented tailgate parties and alcohol use by adults around the stadium and in the neighborhoods around it, Fan Code signage was present on and around school property and police presence was very active. There were no signs of underage drinking.

In addition, Massillon City Schools reported two ejected fans in 2014 for inappropriate behavior compared to 15 fans removed from the game in 2012.

Gerbig credited the success to the fact that her coalition also had a special team out in the community, who regularly established relationships with stakeholders.

“There’s a lot of great communication going on,” Gerbig said. “Because of the relationships we had discussions about the Fan Code of Conduct and it provided us with opportunities to do community education. It was really collaboration at its very best.”

Gerbig said that it’s important to have each sector of the community on board.

“We had buy-in from police, schools and neighborhood watches. That unified front really was able to convince the community that it was an important thing for them to respect and support,” she explained. “Football is part of the community fabric and history and we didn’t want them to discredit themselves, but we wanted them to take pride in how they presented themselves to the community and the rest of the nation.”