Coach knows best.
Michael Curry was working in his office in the basketball arena when he heard the news. A gunman had opened fire in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Five people were killed; a dozen more were injured.
The mass shooting on January 6 stunned people across the nation, but for Curry, the men’s basketball coach at Florida Atlantic University, the rampage was more than concerning. Not only did his team, the Owls, regularly fly out of Fort Lauderdale en route to distant games, but the incident occurred in an area of the airport that his players frequented when coming home — the baggage claim of Terminal 2.
Though Broward police arrested the suspect, a 26-year-old named Esteban Santiago, at the scene, Curry says his mind has not been eased. Especially since the authorities have not yet determined Santiago’s motive for the shooting.
“It leaves you in disbelief. You start wondering if it’s a terrorist attack,” he says.
Since the shooting, Curry and his assistant coaches have devised a few new ways to step up their team’s safety strategy while traveling for games. Adopting FAU’s “Run. Hide. Fight.” protocol for an active shooter on campus, Curry has introduced a “take cover and get out of sight” policy should his players get caught up in an unexpected dangerous situation during outings.
“Their safety is the most important thing,” the coach says, likening the guys on his team to his own children. To enhance the players’ vigilance, Curry has also prohibited them from wearing headphones while in the airport. They can listen to music and watch videos once boarded on the plane.
Additionally, the Owls will no longer join athletic staff at the baggage claim at their final destination. Instead the team will wait in the area of the airport secured by TSA until skycaps finish loading its gear onto the bus.
“Someone was randomly targeted and their lives were taken away,” Curry says about the shooting, describing the new procedure as a way to keep his guys from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Last week the Owls flew to Texas out of Fort Lauderdale for a game against the San Antonio Roadrunners. Curry says that during their trip it was a bit eerie for them to be in the terminal where five people had been murdered one week earlier.
“You could tell people had a general concern,” he says, regarding the airport’s atmosphere.
Before arriving to FLL, the team prayed for the families of anyone hurt or killed in the attack.
The trip to Texas, despite its reflective sadness at Terminal 2, offered Curry and his staff the chance to implement the new travel precautions. Since the Owls knew the new procedures were put into place for the players’ own safety, the transition was easy — especially since they worked together as a team to keep each other accountable.
“We do things as a group,” Curry says. “Everything went smoothly.”
So far, Coach Curry’s new protocol applies only to FAU’s basketball team, but the athletics department is considering extending the new procedures and security measures to other school teams.