Sunday, December 04, 2011
Ugly, ugly, ugly – the only way to describe what I witnessed last Sunday at an indoor tournament. At every step of the way, responsible people could have seen that behaviors didn't escalate and that the kids understood how awful the incident was. Instead, parents and coaches inflamed the situation, police were called and no one learned a valuable lesson.
Two teams were playing a hotly contested game. The score remained 0-0 for much of the first half, and for those of you who know the speed of indoor soccer you also know how unusual that is. The teams were not the same age. I would imagine one team was Under-13 and the other was either U-14 or U-15. The older team was obviously flustered and not used to encountering such stiff competition and the younger team had an air of arrogance that showed they were also used to winning. It was a powder keg just waiting for a fuse and a spark. That came in the second half. I should also mention that these were girls teams.
The score was 4–2 with the older team behind and five minutes left on the clock. During a fierce battle to the goal, a player from the blue older team checked a player from the pink younger team into the boards. The play was too aggressive and the ref blew his whistle. But before he could do anymore than that, the pink player sucker punched the blue player. And the battle was on. Everyone got involved. Parents from the blue team were screaming that the girl should be ejected (which the ref was in the process of doing) and saying that the entire team should be disqualified. The coaches were engaged in a war of words that threatened to come to blows if not for the impediment of the center scoring table, girls from the pink team were standing in front of the box for the blue team taunting both the team and the coach, and the girl who had been hit was backing up on the field with her arms outspread and gesturing for the girl who had hit her to come and get her so they could finish the battle. I don't excuse the punch, but that's an event which should have remained isolated to the attacker. Instead it became the catalyst to release all the pent up frustrations, bravado and brutishness festering in the players, coaches and parents. And in the meantime, the clock was ticking away.
After two and a half minutes of a melee filled with expletives, threats and the blue coach screaming at the girls in pink to ""get the f--- away,"" the referee managed to get the teams back on the field and play continued. The pink team was now a player down, but managed to score a goal first due to the confusion. The blue team valiantly tried to score but the pink team keeper held her own and in the end the score was 5-3.
Now the sour grapes began. The manager of the indoor facility was called to the box and with two coaches literally screaming in her ears, she attempted to listen to the referee to ascertain what had happened. The teams refused to leave the area, and in fact, having them in the boxes probably saved a major fist fight from breaking out. In the meantime, parents joined the situation, ostensibly to protect their daughters, but based on the posturing and language I would say they wanted to avenge their daughters. With so many emotions running high, the manager called the police and one sheriff's squad and three city police squads showed up. Eventually everyone was ushered from the facility into their cars and off the property.
This all happened on the field next to Bryce's game, which I ended up not watching because of the fracas at the girls game. The boys' game had its share of rough play, but it was missing one element to fuel the fire of an actual fight – outside adults. The boys had no coaches and only a handful of parents. The boys' game also had two referees because it was boys and they were over U-15. So much for stereotypes.
This tournament is sponsored by the local indoor facility every Thanksgiving Sunday. It attracts mostly local teams, but a few come up from Chicago or over from Madison. I doubt the tournament is listed anywhere but on the Wisconsin State Youth Soccer Association website. It holds no reputation for being a significant tournament, nor does it carry any weight for team rankings. It doesn't attract college scouts. It is simply an opportunity for teams to play three games for minimal cost in a short period of time. Many of the teams are formed just for the purpose of playing in the tournament. In other words, this tournament is for FUN. But apparently someone forgot to tell these girls, their coaches and their parents. Bryce's team won their bracket and got orange t-shirts with a turkey on the front and the word ""Champions"" on the back that all the boys found funny, since champion is a word that should be used for noble combat, not a few pick-up games on a Sunday afternoon.
For these two girls teams this was all about saving face. If the coach of the blue team hadn't spent so much time berating the referee for not stopping the attack and then trying to convince him to make the other team forfeit, his team very well might have had enough time to win the game. Five minutes in indoor soccer is an eternity, and with the other team a player down, eventually the blue team would have had clear opportunities to score. Instead he put his team back on the field with less than two minutes. The pink team coach should have pulled all his girls into their box rather than let them go fight his battle in front of the blue team's box. The referee should have stopped the clock. And the parents should have shut their mouths and let the referee do his job. More importantly, the coaches should have diffused the situation by reminding their players that this was just a game – nothing more, nothing less. Losing to a younger team seemed to devastate the blue team and beating an older team seemed to embolden the pink team. All for total ridiculousness. Everyone loses at some point in their lives. The pink team has probably lost before and they will lose again. The blue team will go on to win the important games and this game for an orange t-shirt that I suspect none of these girls would be caught dead in would have been long forgotten had it not resulted in a near riot.
I actually witnessed a similar event with Robbie's Chicago Magic team. It was an indoor adult game, although Robbie's team was U-17 and the team they were playing was in their 20's. Robbie's team was winning and ultimately the older team had their egos bruised enough that one player knocked out one of Robbie's teammates. In that case things were handled properly. The game was stopped while the coach of the older team came on the field and took the offending player off. Our coach pulled all the players off the field and calmly waited for the referee to do his job. The father of the boy who was hit stayed off the field and instead went to the manager's office to report the incident and ask that police be called since it was an assault. Despite the potential for a complete meltdown, the responsible adults behaved reasonably and trouble was avoided.
The problem with what happened Sunday was that everyone behaved badly. These girls witnessed despicable behavior from most of the adults involved. The amount of foul language flying from coaches, parents, and players would have made Eddie Murphy blush. No one took the high road, no one attempted to diffuse the situation and no one realized how truly insignificant this game was. The punch was unforgiveable and needed to be handled. If the coach of the pink team had been a true adult, he would have pulled his player off, reprimanded her, and he and she would have apologized. Instead he attempted to excuse what she did as being a reasonable response to the foul. The swagger of the player who got hit told me that she had probably been nipping at the pink player all through the game, getting in her head and enflaming her on purpose. If so, this would not be the first time she had done it, so the blue coach should have seen trouble brewing and told her to knock it off. The parents expressed their feelings loudly, profanely and unnecessarily. They made an uncomfortable situation worse by converging on the boxes and the tiny area at the end of the field. I'm surprised that some parents didn't come to blows in such a confined space, but luckily that didn't happen.
Now, a tournament that didn't matter and would normally hold little space in the memories of these players will become a very big deal. It will be replayed for days, even weeks, tainting the joy these players should feel for soccer. Players from the pink team will argue that they won the tournament but were unjustly denied the victory and players from the blue team will argue that they were cheated out of a win. Everyone will feel justified in whatever behaviors they exhibited. Furthermore, because none of the adults behaved properly, no adult reinforced the proper reactions this event should elicit. Instead of a teachable moment where the adults let the players know that being passionate and driven to win should never override temperance and good sportsmanship, the girls witnessed and exercised boorish behavior. The adults could have modeled the proper response to an explosive situation by remaining calm, encouraging their players to not stoop to foul language, taunting and threats. They could have put the event into perspective and promoted winning with humility and losing with dignity. Instead these girls witnessed the worst of behaviors for an insignificant game. Ugly, ugly, ugly.