Fight stains football title

Pop Warner officials to look into brawl between Westport, Hawaii teams in Fla.

December 13, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Baltimore's Westport Patriots - a football team made up of youths 12 to 15 years old from some of the city's toughest neighborhoods - took first place in their division in the Pop Warner Super Bowl Championship in Florida last weekend.

But hours after the game, the Baltimore boys say they were verbally harassed by players from Hawaii. A fight ensued, and before the night was over the Westport team - as well as two teams from Hawaii - were ejected from Disney's All-Star Resort.

It was a chaotic scene, according to local sheriff's deputies who took "conflicting statements" from members of the three teams and, as a result, have declined to file charges.

Parents of Hawaii youths blame the Baltimore team for being "aggressive" and allege that an adult associated with the team "egged on" boys who were brawling.

Pop Warner officials said yesterday that they will try to find the truth. Sanctions, they said, could follow.

"We will have an investigation and a set of hearings and, if there is going to be any sort of punishment, it will be determined at those hearings," said Sam Mutz, national football commissioner for Pop Warner Football, which has its headquarters near Philadelphia. "The punishment will be from here forward, rather than taking away something that a team won in the past."

Mutz said that since the hearings will involve two teams from Hawaii - the Kahalu'u He'eia Broncos and the Wai'anae Tigers - they will probably be conducted by telephone. However, he said, coaches and team members could also be called to Pop Warner headquarters to describe events to a panel of national and regional youth football officials.

"There have been other incidents and we have taken care of them through similar hearings," Mutz said.

Typically, teams that violate the organization's rules are suspended from play or put on probation for a period of time, Mutz said.

For the Westport Patriots, who were undefeated going into the championship, the fight has soured the win in Florida. On Friday, the team defeated the Sarasota Suncoast Buccaneers 27-8 in a game that was described in a local newspaper as a "lesson in humility" for the Florida team.

Montie Williams, one of the Baltimore team's coaches, called the fight "a small thing" and said that he hated to see media outlets focus on it instead of the team's big win. Florida newspapers and television stations have covered the fight, as has the Honolulu Advertiser.

"It's unfortunate that it had to happen like this," said Williams. "It's getting me down. We work hard to keep these kids out of trouble and now this one moment is going to dominate the entire season."

Williams said the fight started when two Hawaii youths made some rude comments to four Baltimore youths. When more boys from the Hawaii teams showed up to join the fight, the Baltimore team members ran back toward adults they knew would help, Williams said.

"Our boys were celebrating [their win] and the [Hawaiian] guys didn't take too good to that and that's how it all kicked off," said Williams.

Parents of Hawaii team members said the fight started with some pushing and shoving and escalated into four members of the Baltimore Patriots jumping a member of the Kahalu'u He'eia Broncos near a concessions stand. They said that an adult chaperone of the Patriots team was "egging" on the youths and might have hit some of the Hawaiian players.

"We don't know who the adult was; we were never able to sort things out," said Ward Kubo, whose son Ford is a wide receiver for the Broncos. "A fist fight between boys, we can shrug that off, but when an adult is involved, that is when I get upset."

Apparently this is not the first time there has been trouble at the Pop Warner Super Bowl. In September, a memo went out to all teams reminding them that the super bowl championship would attract many media outlets and that they had a "duty to make sure that ALL of the people at events represent Pop Warner appropriately."

The memo goes on to state that there have been "serious behavior problems" at past super bowls and that "such problems have not been tolerated in the past, and certainly will not be tolerated this year." The memo also reminds participants that those involved in a fight or other altercation risk "forfeiting hotel and other deposits."

A spokesman for Walt Disney World said yesterday that it is the corporation's policy to immediately eject guests who are acting in a violent matter - no matter what time of day or night. Spokesman Jacob DiPietre said the policy is meant to protect other guests from possible injury.

He said hotel security received a call about a "disturbance" in the All-Star Resort's arcade area about 11:45 p.m. Friday. Local sheriff's officials were also called to the scene and remained there to take statements from witnesses and to make sure that the three teams complied with hotel management's request to vacate their rooms immediately.

A spokeswoman for the Osceola Sheriff's Department said that deputies arrived at the hotel about midnight and spent several hours trying to figure out how the fight started. She said that the initial emergency call was for a possible "riot" involving "80 to 100 people."

"Our deputies spoke with members of the three teams and almost all of them gave conflicting statements," said Twis Lizasuain, the sheriff's spokeswoman.

As a result, no charges were filed and the report was taken for information only, said Lizasuain. She confirmed that a Hawaii team member was injured and that he had been discharged from a hospital by the time a deputy arrived to take his statement.

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