League tightens rules after soccer match altercation

By Jefferson Siegel

At the Downtown Soccer League this past weekend, as teams battled to score goals on the playing field, several parents got carried away with their enthusiasm, which led to two unfortunate incidents involving parents and players.

Halfway into the Rangers-Celtics game in the Minor 9 Division late Saturday afternoon, several Celtics parents and coaches were standing several steps on the playing field during the course of play, calling out to players. One Ranger parent approached and asked them not to stand on the field. The Celtics’ parents responded with admonitions to the Ranger parent to watch his own team and mind his own business.

[For privacy reasons, Downtown Express is withholding the names of the players and parents involved in the incidents.]

A short time later, a second Rangers parent approached the Celtics parents and repeated the request to leave the field. One Celtic parent warned the Ranger parent not to "wave your finger in my face" and then challenged the Ranger parent to an off-field fight. A heated face-off between several of the parents ensued. Referees approached the group, effectively stopping play. Players on both teams stood watching the confrontation as tensions rose.

The second Ranger parent chose to walk away from the confrontation, even as the Celtic parent continued to yell at him. When play finally resumed, two Celtics parents were standing on the field.

The more serious incident occurred at the end of the game. After a 2-0 Rangers victory, the teams lined up opposite each other for a traditional "high-five." One of the Rangers players who saw what happened next, said, "We were just clapping and when we came to [the Celtics player] he hit [the Ranger]." She clenched her fist to show that her teammate was punched. There was a commotion as the young Ranger player, appearing visibly shaken, left the field, blood running down from his nose. Parents from both teams once again faced off, trading charges and countercharges.

The player who was punched was the son of one of the fathers who objected to Celtic parents standing on the field.

As the yelling escalated, referee George Blau and some parents spent several tense minutes trying to defuse the volatile situation. When the two groups finally separated, all declined to be interviewed, saying that the league had successfully dealt with a similar incident last year and the parents had faith it would follow-up this time as well. The Celtics’ coach did not respond to an e-mail requesting a comment.

David Stanke, whose daughter plays on the Rangers, was one of the parents trying to defuse the tension. He said later that the player who was punched after the game said he was choked during the game and another Ranger told Stanke that she was spit on by a Celtic player.

League president Don Schuck is conducting an investigation but said “it’s certainly disturbing and we don’t treat it at all lightly." He called a meeting with coaches Tuesday night. "If the allegations of the claims are proven to be accurate, then we have to take some steps to correct it," he said. Schuck said that before the start of each season, parents and players are required to sign an affirmation that they’ll conduct themselves "respectfully and properly."

On Wednesday, Schuck sent a notice to team coaches listing new guidelines intended to prevent future occurrences. It highlights three issues, the first of which is recognized as "Parent Problems." The new rule, effective this weekend, mandates that "if in the opinion of the referee or coaches, any parent acts in an inappropriate manner during a game he or she will be warned to stop. If the parent does not immediately heed the warning, the referee will end the game."

An underline emphasis was added to address the cause of last week’s incident, noting that "Parents are required to stay off the field both during and after the games."

The notice goes on to address issues of player sportsmanship and coaching problems and concludes that "bad behavior will not be tolerated," adding, "No player is permitted to curse, spit, punch, slide tackle or act in a disrespectful manner to other players, the referee or the coaches."

Schuck’s letter says that "we have no security personnel to enforce our rules" so ultimately the burden of enforcement falls to parents, referees and coaches. He said he wanted to meet with parents at this weekend’s game before the league concludes its investigation.

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