Calling a Foul

February 02, 1992|By JERRY BEMBRY | JERRY BEMBRY,Jerry Bembry is a sportswriter for The Baltimore Sun.

He claims he never felt any real danger, but the last image I have of Archie Shaw is of a man in an official's uniform using his left arm to shield his face as a furious group of teen-agers cursed him and pelted him with towels.

"They were leaping at me and trying to kick me," Mr. Shaw recalled over the phone last week. "I was not hit with any punches, but I did get kicked in the shin.

"I've never witnessed anything of that magnitude," Shaw added. "And I've officiated in some rough places."

Those rough places have included recreation centers and playgrounds throughout the area. Some of those games have included players who wouldn't give a damn about striking an opponent or an official. But Mr. Shaw was attacked on Jan. 24 at Southwestern High School by a group of Southwestern players upset about a controversial call that cost them a basketball game. And judging by some of the reaction to the incident, it's the players who might be the victims in this incident.

Victims? How can a group of athletes attack an authority figure and be victims? School is a place where students are supposed to be taught some degree of discipline, decorum and decency along with their education. But the response from school officials following the incident does nothing but send the wrong message to the kids.

The incident began this way: Southwestern was up by two points with less than five seconds left in the game. The Sabers turned the ball over, and in the next sequence a Walbrook player muscled in a missed shot and was fouled. Southwestern argued the shot shouldn't count because it came after the buzzer, but Mr. Shaw ruled the shot was good. The Walbrook player hit a free throw with no time left for a 66-65 win, and Southwestern lost its sixth straight game.

Mr. Shaw's path off the court led him near the Southwestern bench, and the players were angry. What I saw, in one of the ugliest incidents concerning school athletes and an official, was several players hurling towels at his head.

I tried to get closer, but a converging crowd blocked my view of what was happening. Unable to talk to Mr. Shaw who, for his own safety was rushed out of a back door, I reported in my story the next day that the official was "pelted" with items by several players.

When I got to work on Monday I had a message to call Dave Lang, the athletic director at Southwestern. "I was a little concerned over what he was pelted with," Mr. Lang told me. "What you saw were towels.

"I'm not minimizing the fact that anything was thrown at him," Mr. Lang went on. "The 'pelting' part was a little upsetting to me. It's a little misleading to put 'pelted,' and not pelted with what."

Shocked by Mr. Lang's response, I later called Southwestern principal David Benson for his opinion.

"An official has to have a sense about crowd control," Mr. Benson told me. "He sensed some potential problems, and he could have stopped everything. But he didn't confer with anyone. He could have said 'We can take a minute or two to discuss this.' "

And this response minutes later that day from Southwestern coach Terry Leverette: "I want a reversal. I know the situation was ugly, that we were at fault. But that disregards the fact that he was very, very unprofessional."

A bad call? Maybe. Was Mr. Shaw unprofessional? No. His made a call and stuck with it. That's what officials are paid to do, and coaches have to teach their players to respect -- and live with -- calls that are made.

What was unprofessional -- and inappropriate -- was the response from the people at Southwestern who are supposed to be setting examples.

"It's ludicrous," Mr. Shaw said when told of the responses. "I can't understand how they can say what they said. I should call the game according to the crowd? My job is to make the best call I can make, no matter who is affected. I don't know if they really know what they were saying."

Hopefully by now the administrators will have realized that what they said was out of line -- at least they appeared to have come to that realization by the end of my conversation with them, although only after I expressed concern about their reaction. If I were a Southwestern student -- or a parent -- reading the comments, I would have to be concerned that my administrators care more about the outcome of a game and the way it was handled by an official than about the safety and well being of a person who was probably fortunate the outburst didn't occur at a baseball game.

One Southwestern player was suspended from the team after a teacher had to restrain him during the altercation. Mr. Shaw can identify four players and, pending an investigation, they, too, can be suspended.

"I don't think they should play basketball, but I don't think they should be suspended from school," Mr. Shaw said. "Instead of participating in basketball, they need to work on discipline and education.

"The way kids are today with violence, they need discipline," Mr. Shaw added. "If kids aren't taught to respect themselves or their peers, how are they going to respect officials?"

It won't happen, as long as the educators of our kids are more concerned about how someone was assaulted, how an official called a game or whether the outcome will be reversed.

In an incident where the proper and simple response of shock and outrage was appropriate, the replies from Southwestern officials were complicated. And as long as the students continue to receive those types of mixed signals from people that are supposed to be helping shape their future, then they will continue to be the victims.

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