By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Exactly what happened at a youth basketball tournament at UMass Lowell is why refereeing SUCKS!!
For those who haven’t heard, UMass Lowell Police Officer Peter Morelli confirmed an angry spectator attacked a basketball referee after being ejected from a game between Lowell and Portsmouth, N.H., Tuesday afternoon during a tournament that featured 193 teams from across the region.
Players’ ages ranged from 5th grade to 8th grade—roughly boys and girls ages 11 to 15.
Players on the court for the game were 7th graders.
“We don’t know if it was a parent or relative of a parent, but it was an adult,” Morelli said.
He said the about 6-feet, 3 to 4-inch, 220 pound black man threw water at the referee as he was being escorted out of the gym after being ejected.
"He didn't make an obscene gesture," Morelli said. "He was waving his arms and being verbally abusive--overly verbally abusive," he said.
Tossed from the gym near the end of the game, the man waited for the ref to come through a corridor and then punched him in the chest, a blow that was hard enough to knock down the referee, a man he described as just about as tall as the assailant.
"He looked like a basketball type--almost as big as the alleged suspect," Morelli said.
Morelli said the man took off afterward and initially people in the auditorium balked at telling police who the man was. Morelli said very few tried to help the ref after the attack.
"A few took the lead, but no one did much to help," Morelli said.
Since the game, Morelli said calls have come in and police may question a suspect and possibly press charges.
Morelli said he was concerned about the punch because a hard blow to the chest could have triggered a heart attack.
“That was my concern,” Morelli said. “I told him if he had complications later he should go to the hospital,” Morelli said, noting the referee was probably in his mid-40s.
Luckily, an actual physical attack on a referee is pretty rare and in this case injuries are said to be minor and the referee did not go to the hospital—at least right away.
There have been times when refs have taken their lives into their own hands, most memorably when a referee was gunned down after a World Cup soccer match in 1989, a player in 1994, and in Kenya in 2002.
But that’s pro sports, right? Youth sports aren’t hostile and dangerous. Most of the time they’re not, and Tuesday, the suspect was lucky. His attack thus far has not caused injury, but what if it had?
Just ask Thomas Junta, the hockey dad who killed another parent after losing control over play between their sons. He spent 8 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
As a rookie soccer referee, I still remember the immortal words of advice from long-time soccer referee Dennis LaVersa--namesake of the Dennis LaVersa Massachusetts Tournament of Champions Referee of the Year award--telling would-be refs in my first certification class back in the mid-1980s that one of the best things you can do as a referee is park your car so you can drive away as fast as possible.
“In case you have to make a fast get-away,” LaVersa said then and his words of wisdom still hold true nearly 30 years later.
Yeah, being involved in youth sports most of the time is fun and rewarding, but when it isn’t, it’s the worst of nightmares.
"You want to volunteer, you want to, but things like this make it very difficult," Officer Morelli said.
I’ve got an idea.
Whoever the culprit is should be forced--either by the courts or his own shame--to community service, as a referee.
Give him 4 years and make him be a basketball ref AND a referee in a sport he knows nothing about, since most spectators haven’t got a clue what the rules of the game—any game--are.
Four years. That’s about right--enough time to take the courses—and he should pay for them—and then hit the court or field in the black and white stripes and see what it’s like.
Maybe after that he’ll punch himself in the face.
It ain’t easy being the ref.
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