VERNAL — A youth football coach and another man have been charged with assault after police say they attacked a rival football coach at the end of a game for fifth- and sixth-graders.
Officers were called Saturday afternoon to the Vernal Junior High School football field after an end-of-game handshake between coaches turned violent, Assistant Vernal Police Chief Keith Campbell said.
"One of the coaches struck the other coach in the side of the head," Campbell said, noting that the coach who was hit had extended his hand in anticipation of the handshake when he was punched.
One parent told the Deseret News that Johnny Hamilton, whose team won 23-14, was upset that one of his players had been hit when his offense took a knee to run out the clock and end the game. The parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the game had been filled with trash talk from people on both sidelines even before the final play.
After Hamilton landed his first punch, he was wrapped up by an assistant coach from the opposing team, witnesses told police. A brief scuffle ensued that involved an unknown number of people, and Equator Edward Mamea — whose relationship to Hamilton remained unclear Thursday — jumped in and continued the attack Hamilton started, according to Campbell.
Neither man was taken to jail. They were issued citations instead and charged Monday by Vernal city prosecutors with assault, a class B misdemeanor. Court records show it's not the first time they have been in legal trouble.
Hamilton, 32, pleaded guilty to one count of simple assault in 2001. One year later, he admitted in federal court that he had possessed a stolen .38-caliber pistol. He was given a probation sentence for his conviction on the stolen weapons charge.
Mamea, 30, also has a number of felony and misdemeanor convictions that include possession of a controlled substance, possession of a forged writing, DUI and theft by deception.
Sonja Norton, treasurer for the Vernal Youth Football Ute Conference, told the Deseret News on Thursday that the league's board of directors hadn't yet had a chance to fully discuss Saturday's incident. The board, therefore, could not comment on the incident, she said.
The league is not affiliated with the Uintah School District or the Uintah Recreation District. It is run entirely by parent-volunteers and does not require background checks for its coaches.
The Vernal league also has no connection with the Salt Lake-based Ute Conference youth football program, which requires all coaches to go through a background check as well as a certification clinic, according to Ute Conference Commissioner Mike Matich.
Campbell said he believes what happened Saturday is an isolated incident. There are no plans to have officers on hand at future youth football games, he said.
"We'd like to think that's not necessary," the assistant chief said. "The majority of coaches are doing this for the right reasons, to have a positive influence on these kids."
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