Lacrosse brawl forces six off school teams

Liberty and South Carroll must forfeit 2 games each

Adult spectators involved

Six other students barred from playing in one game

Carroll County

May 06, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai and Jeff Seidel | Athima Chansanchai and Jeff Seidel,SUN STAFF

The superintendent of Carroll County schools kicked six boys off two high school lacrosse teams yesterday and issued a one-game suspension to six more players in response to an on-field melee involving athletes and adult spectators last week at Liberty High School in Eldersburg.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker also forced the Liberty and South Carroll high school teams to forfeit two games each but backed away from canceling the rest of their lacrosse seasons, saying he didn't want to punish players who tried to break up the fight.

Ecker said three players will be taken off each team. Six other players, three from each team, will be suspended from playing in one game.

All 12 players participated in the brawl during a game Friday night at Liberty's field, Ecker said. The incident was broadcast on the local Adelphia cable sports network, and the tape was made available to school officials.

The fight began as a scuffle near one of the goals and escalated into a melee that involved both teams and about five adult spectators, including one man who apparently tried to choke an assistant coach. The man was not identified.

State police at the Westminster barracks are investigating the incident as a criminal matter, focusing on the adult spectators who were involved. Capt. Scott Yinger said no charges have been filed.

Friday's game goes down as a double forfeit, a loss for each team.

Liberty and South Carroll also must forfeit their next game against a county opponent. For Liberty, that is next week's game against Century High School. The South Carroll Cavaliers must forfeit their game against North Carroll, which was scheduled for Monday this week. The game had been put on hold while Ecker decided what action to take.

Ecker imposed two levels of penalties, the more severe one for the six students who he said escalated the fight. Those students will be removed from the teams and barred from extracurricular activities for the rest of the season, he said. Also, because of what Ecker called unsportsmanlike behavior, they will surrender any awards they have received.

"As I reviewed the tape, I didn't want to penalize the students that did right, that did good," Ecker said during a news conference at Board of Education headquarters in Westminster yesterday. "I'm proud a number of the players did not participate. They showed restraint. I admired that. I want to be fair and firm, and not unduly penalize those students.

"You can't control what someone else does, but you can control your reaction to it," he said.

Ecker's decision yesterday reflected a turnaround. He said earlier this week that he would contemplate canceling the remainder of the season for both teams.

Principals from both schools also were given permission to punish additional players whom they identify as participants in the brawl.

South Carroll coach Bill McDermott said he would rather the students be punished than the season be canceled.

"I'm glad we can still play. I talked to the team about it, and they weren't happy the players were out for the year," McDermott said.

No disciplinary actions are planned against coaches and other school administrators.

The teams could meet again in the playoffs. School officials said they didn't want to address that issue now but that precautions are being considered.

"We may play without any fans," Ecker said. "There will certainly be a lot of safeguards."

Violent incidents on playing fields involving children and adults are becoming more common, said Tina Syer, director of development with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit organization at Stanford University.

"The win-at-all-cost mentality pervasive in professional sports and college sports trickles down to youth sports," Syer said. "Unfortunately, the attitude the coaches, parents and athletes bring into youth sports usually mirror what we see on TV.

"Instead of remembering high school athletics are an extension of the classroom, they think of it as entertainment," she said.

Bruce Cowan, Carroll's supervisor of physical education and athletics, noted that lacrosse is an "aggressive game ... but you have to control that aggression.

"We definitely felt there was some kind of message to be sent," he said. "We don't want anyone to think this is acceptable behavior."

Gregory Eckles, the county's director of high schools, said, "It does send a strong message to individuals who act inappropriately and who disrupt activities that they are going to suffer the consequences."

The brawl started with two minutes and 59 seconds left in the annual game between the neighboring schools. The game was tied at 13 when a shoving match started near the South Carroll goal. Within seconds, it escalated into a fistfight when a Liberty player rushed an opponent at midfield and flattened him. The attack cleared both benches as other players joined the fight.

The videotape showed at least two men running onto the field and one of them apparently trying to assault a Liberty assistant coach. Officials then suspended the game.

Ecker said spectators who participated in the brawl are to be barred indefinitely from attending county extracurricular activities.

Sun staff writer Hanah Cho contributed to this article.

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