An official of women's lacrosse issues a colorful warning to spectators who show offensive behavior during a game.

Purple card turns fans red

Arundel at Play

Recreation and local sports in Anne Arundel County

April 06, 2005|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bonnye Lang, who during the past 19 years has officiated hundreds of girls' and women's lacrosse games, is bothered by what she calls increasingly poor behavior of spectators, especially at youth-level games.

About five years ago, Lang did something about it, coming up with the idea of handing particularly offensive spectators what's called a purple card - a warning that they're out of line. It's an idea with backers in women's lacrosse, but it also is creating controversy as the concept becomes better known.

"The antics on the sidelines and in the stands are appalling," said Lang, who lives in Arnold. "People act like they wouldn't act anywhere in the world, with the things they say and the way they act. I don't know if you've ever watched a kid and watched their body language when their parent starts going berserk. I've been at Division I [college] games where a kid comes up to me and apologizes for their parents."

That was distressing enough. But Lang, who also officiates volleyball, said such behavior is even harder on younger players.

"Six or seven years ago, bad behavior crept into tournaments," Lang said, referring to weekend tournaments that are increasingly popular throughout youth sports. "You could see it starting to escalate."

Lang found a backer for her purple-card idea in Cathy Samaras, the Annapolis lacrosse entrepreneur who, with two of her daughters, runs womenslacrosse.com, a business that puts together tournaments for youth club teams. Lang assigns officials for those events.

`Stops crazy behavior'

"We decided, since we were running the biggest tournaments, we could have the most effect," Samaras said, and the first card was used in 2000. "It kind of stops crazy behavior. Umpires [women's lacrosse officials] know they have this card they can give to people acting crazy on the sidelines."

One side of the purple card reads: "Your actions have run contrary to the high level of sportsmanship expected of participants at all events sponsored by womenslacrosse.com. Clean up your act, or you will be officially escorted from the site of this event."

The flip side reads: "Your behavior does not reflect `the spirit of the game.' Inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated by anyone. Period."

Fans caught on quickly.

"Now, as soon as they see an official pull a purple card out, the whole sidelines gets quiet," Lang said. At last year's All-Star Express, a tournament that pulls in more than 300 youth teams, the card was used twice.

Only once, Lang said, have officials had to follow through on the threat to have a fan escorted from an event - in New Jersey, where a fan threw the card back at the official's face.

In most cases, said Lang, mother of two daughters, the purple card is a reality check for a parent who might not have realized just how loud and obnoxious he or she has become. Often, she said, the parent apologizes.

Controversy brewing

Controversy is brewing on two fronts, though. First, not all officials feel the card is necessary.

"We already have provisions in the rule book," said Lea Kusner, a women's lacrosse official who assigns officials for the Maryland Youth Lacrosse Association and for Baltimore County youth games. That's especially so, she said, for high school and college games.

Those rules say that if a fan is out of line, an official can stop play and tell the coach to take care of it. If the coach can't or won't, then the official can suspend the game. Lang counters that suspending play is unfair to players.

But Kusner, who has worked womenslacrosse.com tournaments, said she doesn't like the idea of officials confronting spectators, in addition to their on-field duties. "To award a card to an individual is opening a can of worms," she said.

The second controversy brewing involves U.S. Lacrosse, the governing body of the men's and women's versions of the sport, which have different rules.

This month's Lacrosse magazine, published by the federation, has an article about ways to create a positive culture for the sport at the youth level that discusses having the purple card used by sideline managers - volunteers who would help police fan behavior and issue the purple cards.

Information about sideline managers and purple cards was available at the federation's national convention, and the sideline manager and purple card concepts are included in the Boys Youth Rules for 2005; the concept is being treated as a pilot program in girls youth lacrosse.

Legality questioned

But the purple card itself has been copyrighted by womenslacrosse.com. And that might be raising a legal issue between the two organizations.

Lang, however, recalled a recent experience officiating a tournament that didn't use the purple card.

After what she said was a beautifully played, overtime game, "We walked off the field, and a parent came behind the three of us [officials] and used language I'd never heard before. I couldn't believe it was over a lacrosse game."

She describes going back to a non-purple-card environment as "culture shock."

Plus, Lang said, some of the worst infractions are by parents yelling at their own children, adding: "It's not acceptable."

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