If a bunch of Monticello teenagers willingly engage in fistfights that are recorded on video, is that a crime?
Authorities aren't sure yet, but they do know that fight clubs are a bad idea, and they are advising the youths to avoid such activities, said Sgt. Eric Leander of the Wright County Sheriff's Office.
The issue of underground fight clubs surfaced a week ago when a 16-year-old boy was treated for facial injuries after engaging in a fight at a gravel pit area behind Wal-Mart on School Lane, about a mile west of Monticello High School. Such fights appear to have been going on for a few weeks, Leander said.
School liaison officers heard about the prior fights during school Friday of last week, Leander said. They saw some students in fight videos on YouTube and advised the boys' parents to have their sons "knock it off," Leander said. But late that same afternoon, about a dozen Monticello youths who are neighborhood or school acquaintances appeared for a club fight at the below-grade gravel pits behind Wal-Mart, Leander said.
A few hours later, the 16-year-old was treated and released at a hospital, which notified police.
Some of the teens use boxing gloves, and at least one fight was in an unidentified backyard, Leander said, but it appears no adults were involved. Police didn't release the names of any of the juveniles involved.
"If a group of teenagers agrees to participate in something like this that they believe is a sporting event, it is hard to call it a crime," Leander said. Investigators have interviewed most of those involved, Leander said, and will submit a report next week to the county attorney who will decide whether assault, disorderly conduct or any charge is warranted.
In any event, "We hope parents will talk to their kids about doing sports that are sanctioned and supervised," Leander said. "We don't want this going on anymore at all."
Fight clubs, inspired by a 1999 film by that name, have cropped up around the country, including in the Twin Cities. Savage, Blaine and New Brighton reported clubs a few years ago, and several cities have passed ordinances banning the activity, also called ultimate fighting or mixed martial arts.
Blaine banned fight clubs in 2007 after a teenage fighter suffered a broken jaw or nose, said Mayor Tom Ryan.
"You'd get 50 or 60 kids in a parking lot, and everybody was cheering them on. It gets pretty rough," Ryan said. "Everybody claps and urges them to keep going. They were very secret about meeting. It wasn't with gloves. It was bare-knuckle."
He said no more fight clubs have been reported since Blaine passed the ordinance.
Monticello school Superintendent Jim Johnson said he first heard about the Walmart fight a few hours after it occurred, when parents asked him about it at a high school football game. He later asked his own four teenagers, who, he said, had about as much information about the fight as he did.
The school liaison officer confirmed Monday what had happened, Johnson said. School officials talked to the 10th-grade class, which Johnson believes includes the injured boy. He said the Sheriff's Office also has spoken with families of the fighters they could identify.
"We're hoping we nipped it in the bud," Johnson said. "We don't want anyone else to get hurt. We want students to be safe all the time, whether they are in school or in our community.
"Being involved in an activity like this is not safe. It's not a good choice."
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658