Area police help with fight at Lincoln's Challenge
RANTOUL — It took pepper spray to break up a brawl at the Lincoln’s Challenge Academy late Friday night.
And it’s likely that several cadets who were only two weeks from graduating from the 16-week program may be kicked out for fighting.
Several area police departments were called to the main building of the school on Dodge Avenue that is run by the Illinois National Guard for at-risk teen-age boys and girls who have dropped out of high school.
The call came during the height of Friday night’s storms while power was out at the school.
“There were pre-existing hostilities between individual cadets and the power outage gave them the opportunity to take advantage and act on those pre-existing hostilities,” said Major Brad Leighton, public affairs director for the Illinois National Guard in Springfield.
Leighton said there were about 20 cadets involved in a fight that started around 11:15 p.m. Friday. They had been taken from their rooms on the second floor to shelter in the hallways of the first floor of the main residence hall because of the threatening weather. The power went out about 10:30 p.m., he said.
“They were throwing things, upending beds and doing all sorts of things they shouldn’t be doing,” Leighton said.
Leighton said there were probably seven or eight staff members working and the decision was made to call police.
Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber said when his officers arrived, they decided they needed even more help. Several officers from Champaign, Urbana, University of Illinois, and Thomasboro police as well as the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office arrived.
While there were about 80 to 100 cadets in the halls, Leighton said there were only about 20 involved in the fighting. Of the 20, about half were boys and half were girls.
“There were different factions fighting. It was very chaotic. They were throwing things,” said Farber, who said officers decided the quickest way to end the fracas was to spray combatants with pepper spray.
Farber said there were no arrests and none of the police or cadets were seriously hurt.
Leighton said two girls and a boy were taken to Carle Hospital and Presence Covenant Medical Center in Urbana to checked out. All were treated and released for minor injuries.
Farber said the pepper spray “halted things and got things under control.”
“It really prevented any major physical injuries,” Farber said. “I would say it was under control within 15 to 20 minutes of our arrival.”
Leighton said Lincoln’s Challenge staff members do not carry pepper spray.
Now in its 20th year, over 13,000 cadets from at-risk backgrounds have graduated from Lincoln’s Challenge.
“Things like this really are a shame because the program is an excellent program. It’s put a number of people on track for life. We’re very, very proud of these young people and what they are able to accomplish. It’s too bad a few of them decided to lose their discipline in the waning weeks of the program,” he said.
Leighton said those involved would probably be dismissed from the program. There are approximately 315 cadets in the current class.
“There’s no tolerance for this sort of behavior and it put other youth and staff involved in the program at risk. The whole program is based on discipline and learning life skills. Obviously, fighting is not a life skill,” he said.
Police were there about an hour, Farber said.