Parent's ban reconsidered after acquittal

Decision likely this week, Carroll schools chief says

October 24, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

William Augustus Bell wants back in the game.

When Bell was acquitted last week of assault charges in connection with an on-field melee at a high school lacrosse game in the spring, the Mount Airy parent was hoping Carroll County school officials would lift a ban that prohibits him from attending extracurricular activities at any county school.

Schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said he is reconsidering his decision to "indefinitely" ban Bell but maintains that "some sort of penalty" is appropriate for spectators who go onto playing fields. The chief consideration now, Ecker said, is the duration of that penalty.

He said he banned Bell from events - not because he was facing criminal charges - but because he had gone onto the field.

"We need good sportsmanship on the field and in the stands. There was another parent who was on the field, and he was not accused of assaulting anybody, but both were suspended," said Ecker, who met with Bell on Friday and expects to decide this week whether to lift the sanction against him.

Across the nation, school officials and sports organizations are grappling with ways to curb rowdy fan behavior as violent incidents on playing fields involving children and adults are becoming more common.

"Every day, I can go out and sit in a field, at a park, on a court or at a rink and see inappropriate behavior occurring ... such as yelling, screaming and demeaning children," said Lisa Licata, vice president for Florida-based National Alliance for Youth Sports. "The sad part is that sometimes adults do that to their own children, which can be abusive."

With the need to stress good sportsmanship on the field and along the sidelines, school officials are trying various ways to maintain order.

Some officials are adopting codes of conduct for parents. Others hold parent orientations to explain the rules and expectations.

At least one school district in Florida has "silent game days," when shouting is prohibited as a way of reminding parents that the games are for the children.

In Illinois, in an effort to stem the growing problem of violence on the playing field, a law that takes effect Jan. 1 imposes stiffer sentences and fines for attacking sports officials. A school district in Ohio no longer has Friday night games, opting for Saturday morning events that they say are less likely to invite security problems.

In Carroll County, school officials said they are addressing incidents of spectator misbehavior on a case-by-case basis.

At Bell's trial, his lawyer portrayed him as a father trying to defend his son in an on-field fracas that he perceived was out of control, while prosecutors painted him as an overzealous fan.

A videotape captured the brawl between rivals South Carroll and Liberty High schools at their game April 30 at Liberty's field in Eldersburg. Bell, the parent of a South Carroll lacrosse player, was charged in May with second-degree assault in an incident involving Liberty assistant coach Micah S. Reese, 23, of Eldersburg.

Bell's attorney, W. Bradley Bauhof, said that because of the sanction, his client has missed several important sports events, including an awards banquet involving his son, who is also a running back on South Carroll's football team.

"It's not ideal to ban spectators, especially parents who are supporting a child's participation," said Judy Young, vice president of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in Reston, Va. "But you also have to ensure it's a safe and positive experience for everybody."

Licata, who spoke at a statewide conference for youth sports officials in Howard County two years ago, said problems arise in part because parents have unrealistic expectations.

"Adults, oftentimes parents, view sports as an opportunity for their children to excel at higher levels," she said. They have their eyes on college scholarships and professional contracts.

"It's really scary that we have adults putting that much pressure on children to be so good," she said. "Yelling from the stands, what is that really doing?"

She said weeding out violent and unwanted behavior from sports is crucial.

"People need to be accountable for their behavior," she said.

Ecker said the message he wants to send is plain and simple: Spectators belong in the stands, players on the field. He said school officials have made a concerted effort this year to spread the word that spectators are not allowed on the field "for any reasons."

"There are things that happen in a game" that spectators might not agree with, "but we have to rise above that and we can't retaliate by fighting," he said.

"The game is for the kids," he added. "There are officials on the field to control the game and we don't want spectators to escalate any fights or [try to resolve officials' calls] that a spectator feels is inappropriate."

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