MIDVALE Boys soccer is in big trouble.
With the number of ejections in boys soccer climbing 43 percent to 111 this season, the Utah High School Activities Association's executive committee voted to put boys soccer on probation for one year.
"We want them to know they need to police themselves, or we're going to have to police them," said Pleasant Grove Principal Jess Christen, who made the motion to put the sport on probation, which passed unanimously. It wasn't just ejections that prompted the move, which the panel of principals hope will force coaches, parents and players to make sportsmanship more of a priority.
"It was the ejections and the incident reports from the state tournament," said Rob Cuff, assistant director of the UHSAA who oversees soccer. "Specifically, it was problems in 3A, 4A and 5A."
The committee took action against three of the four schools involved, but is asking that Bonneville coach Mike Hickman be called for a sportsmanship hearing to address his behavior after the 4A championship match. Witnesses accused Hickman of berating a UHSAA staff member over officiating after the game.
Dixie, Park City and Jordan were all fined $500, put on probation for one year and sent a letter of reprimand for incidents involving fans and/or players. Additionally, they will all lose two games off of their schedules, meaning they'll play fewer games next year.
The Park City incident involved a player who was ejected on a soft red card in the second half of a quarterfinal loss to Logan. The senior flipped off the referee and tried to spit at him, and then on the way to his own bench, he taunted Logan's crowd.
The Dixie situation occurred at Delta after a quarterfinal game. A senior player pushed an official and several parents refused to leave the field after the game and engaged Delta administrators in an argument.
The Jordan incidents occurred during the Beetdiggers' championship game. Students brought posters and banners, which are prohibited at state tournaments, and several students climbed the fence to get into the game without paying.
The fans also came without shirts or repeatedly had to be told to keep their shirts on during the match. An adult was asked to give an air horn to security officials, as those are also banned, and he berated the administrator before giving it to him.
And finally, the announcer asked several times that fans stay in the stands so the next game could start on time, but Jordan fans ran onto the field and then dumped two buckets of ice that had sticky liquid in it requiring the turf be cleaned before the next game could begin. Security was such an issue that Juan Diego, which hosted the 4A and 5A championship matches, had to enlist extra security personnel to deal with the issues.
Dixie principal Craig Hammer was at the game where the Flyers were involved in the unsportsmanlike behavior, and said he agreed with the penalty imposed. He hoped that fans, parents, players and coaches viewed the probation as an opportunity to get a grip on behavior that is marring the sport's reputation.
"I hope they'll understand it's just a game," Hammer said. "It's not life and death. We need to be civil and respectful to all people. That's my biggest thing to be respectful and civil to all people, but especially to referees. They're doing the best they can do and not getting paid much to do it."
Several principals wondered if the high number of coaches who work outside the school was part of the problem. However, Hammer said one of the best coaches he'd had was a paraprofessional, so he's not sure that's the problem either.
"I don't know why the soccer mentality is the way it is," Hammer said.
The principals acknowledge it will be difficult to punish players, especially seniors, and/or their parents without the support of coaches.
Lee Mitchell has coached at Alta since 1983 and he wasn't surprised with the actions taken by the UHSAA in Monday's meeting.
"My personal feeling is that they should punish the schools that are having the problems," he said. "If that's Alta then so be it."
He has meetings with his parents and players to discuss sportsmanship, which may be happening at a lot of other schools next year. Executive Director Evan Excell will send a letter to every administrator and soccer coach addressing what the committee sees as a critical issue. Mitchell said it might seem soccer fans are worse than other sports because they're often right on the sideline of the game and have access to officials and opposing players and coaches.
With a lot of turnover among soccer coaches, Mitchell said many may not know that soccer has been on probation before and actually went from a 20-game season to 18 games until just a few years ago when they earned those two games back.
"If the ejections are that high, I understand," he said, of the probation.
Of those 111 players and coaches ejected, 38 were for soft red cards, which means they were ejected after receiving two yellow cards in a game. The executive committee also voted to change the ejection rule as it relates to soft red cards so that they only miss the remainder of the game they're playing in when they receive the soft red card and not an additional game. When a player gets a hard red card, usually for unsportsmanlike conduct, he automatically misses an additional game.
In other action at Monday's meeting:
The Executive Committee voted to approve adding girls golf as a spring sport. They voted to change the rules governing the judges at music, drama and speech festivals. Judges will now be required to sign forms about their criminal history and no adult will be allowed to judge a student alone.