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Old Sat Feb 14, 2004, 05:54pm
WinterWillie WinterWillie is offline
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I tried to post the URL without success. So here it is for your perusal.

Local Sports

Poor fan behavior no laughing matter

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Just what we needed, another story of parental violence at a high school sporting event.

In western Pennsylvania, a parent came out of the stands, picked up a basketball official and body-slammed him to the court. The official was knocked unconscious and suffered a severe concussion.

The incident took place in a game between heated rivals, Deer Lakes and Hampton high schools. Because of a brawl between the schools last season, it was agreed that only parents, grandparents and school officials would attend the game. It was played at 4 p.m. with no more than 60 people in the gym. The teams played earlier this season without incident. Unfortunately game two turned ugly, and in the third quarter a fist fight broke out on court.

One mother, who was shouting obscenities at the official throughout the game, was in the process of being physically escorted from the building. About this same time, her son, a 6-3 junior forward, used his fists on another player. That's when his dad came out of the stands, picked up a veteran official of 24 years and slammed him to the court.

When asked what precipitated the incident, the woman said it all started because the official had made bad calls.

Pennsylvania high school officials have suggested moving the schools into different conferences next season. That treats the symptom. It does nothing for the disease.

I'll be danged if I have an idea either. One thing we cannot do, however, is sit back and be thankful that stuff like this doesn't happen around here. It already has, it does, and it will.

The Naugatuck Valley League posted code of conduct signs in gymnasiums of member schools about eight years ago, but that hasn't stopped kooks from acting like

kooks. It never will.

Fans have tried to walk onto a basketball court to challenge officials. We had a soccer player put his hands on an official during a game. I have seen a parent challenge a coach to a fist fight in a parking lot. I have seen a parent watch his child play a game through a chain link fence because he had been banned from going anywhere near the team or the coach. I have seen a parent hop a barrier when his daughter was taken out of a game to try and get at a coach.

At least three area coaches have received threats serious enough to warrant investigation. Who knows how many more have been ignored. We had a punch aimed by one youth coach toward another, and we even had a coach who assaulted a student.

Fist fights happen between kids during a heated game, but it is the action of the "nutso parents" in the stands — to borrow a phrase from the Pennsylvania ref with the bump on his head — that frighten us. Area schools conduct leadership and sportsmanship seminars for student athletes, but you can't do much to reign in the aggressive behavior of a parent who lives vicariously through a child's athletic exploits.

Two things need to be done. First, it is up to schools to control abusive coaches on the sidelines. They rant and rave and scream at officials. It is not harmless. It is not funny. It is not about getting the next call. They serve as a signal to both players and fans that it is OK for them to do the same. It should not be tolerated for even a moment.

The second is up to us moms and dads. Go to the games and shut up. Sorry, that was rude, but I stand by the sentiment. I know of what I speak. I used to be a yeller. I yelled at an official once at a youth basketball game. It was a high school kid. He was just earning some pocket money by refereeing a half-court game for a bunch of 11 and 12 year-olds. He made a bad call. I yelled. He turned and looked at me. His face had a terribly hurt expression. I felt like the biggest jerk on the planet.

Though some things never change, you might think, at least I stopped yelling like a fool. At least I tried to let my kid have some fun without pressure from a "nutso parent" in the stands. I relaxed and actually had some fun myself.

Take it from a reformed jerk, please shut up and keep the nuts either in trees or distant gymnasiums.

Joe Palladino is a Republican-American staff writer. He can be e-mailed at [email protected]

Nature bats last!
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