Wittman banned

Blast turns to Kelly

Defender to run team as MISL suspends coach for rest of season

Pro Soccer

March 21, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Blast coach Tim Wittman was suspended for the remainder of the season yesterday by the Major Indoor Soccer League, whose officials said more punishment could be coming in the next several days.

After the MISL announced the suspension, Blast team operator Ed Hale named longtime defender Danny Kelly as interim player/coach for the final five regular-season games and the playoffs. Tarik Walker will remain as the assistant coach. The Blast is in third place with a 15-10 record and recently clinched a playoff spot, and Hale said that the coaching situation would be re-evaluated at season's end.

Wittman was involved in an incident at the end of Saturday's 8-6 loss to the California Cougars in Stockton, Calif. Wittman had physical contact with senior game referee Terry Mashino and penalty box attendant Rob Planette, said Herb Silva, the MISL's vice president of officials. Wittman was arrested on battery charges and then released on his own recognizance at the site.

Court dates will be pending on the charges in Stockton.

"The conduct that was exhibited required the league to take very fast action here," MISL commissioner Steve Ryan said. "The type of conduct that was exhibited has no place in the MISL or in any professional sport and amateur sport."

Ryan and other league officials said they're still gathering information on the incident and more penalties could be coming once everything's been completely reviewed. There's a chance that Wittman's suspension could carry over into next season.

Wittman admitted yesterday to shoving Mashino and getting a chokehold on Planette moments later. However, he said that Mashino cursed him and threatened to write him up in a report when Wittman confronted him at game's end about the officiating and that he was defending himself against Planette.

"I shoved him, and he falls to the ground," said Wittman, a Blast Hall of Fame player out of Calvert Hall before he turned to coaching. "I know I shouldn't have done that. I went over to where he fell on the ground, and then everything broke loose. People were grabbing and pushing me into the penalty box, this guy grabbed me around the shirt and was pushing me against the glass, and I choked him to [defend] myself ... as he was holding me up against the glass."

Hale expected the suspension and said he's worried that it will extend further.

"I think it's a sad day for the team," Hale said. "Tim, with his history with us, [I think] it's a shame that it could end like this."

Hale also said he is going to work around the part of the league ruling saying suspension is to be without pay. But Hale now said the team has to move forward and focus on helping Kelly take command.

Hale said he had several options, but that making Kelly player/coach was definitely the best choice.

"He was flattered to be asked," Hale said of Kelly. "I had no hesitation. Danny is the person that can take us to the championship.

Kelly, 37, has been a longtime fan favorite in Baltimore. He came to the Blast in a trade with the Harrisburg Heat before the 1998-99 season and remained ever since. Kelly has scored 326 points (105 goals, 134 assists) with the Blast and is sixth on the team's all-time scoring list.

Kelly played in this season's All-Star Game and is 20th in MISL history with 854 points. He plans to address the team when the players come back to practice this morning.

"I'm not going to make any drastic changes," Kelly said. "We have a good thing going here. We just need to start winning some games, starting with Friday night [against California]."

According to the league, Wittman will not be allowed in the Blast's facilities or to have contact with its players there. But Hale said he's going to work out a way to let Wittman speak to the team off-site.

There's still a number of questions that remain about what happened. California general manager Emily Ballus said a game tape was sent to the league, but she wasn't sure if the incident is on the video.

"Since it's a league issue, we deferred to them," Ballus said. "We were just sort of the host of the event."

Wittman said he doesn't want the team to be hurt by this. He will be watching and rooting as the Blast tries to win a third championship in four years.

"I'm going to back them any way that I can," Wittman said. "They pretty much know what they have to do. There's no reason they can't win this right now. They have the talent."

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