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Game assault highlights problems in high school boys soccer

Published: Sunday, March 30 2014 7:05 p.m. MDT

In just the first three weeks of high school soccer competition in Utah, 51 boys and coaches have already been ejected from games.

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SALT LAKE CITY — An alarming number of ejections from boys high school soccer games this spring became a frightening reality for two schools this week when a fight during a game put one boy in the hospital and another in jail.

In just the first three weeks of high school soccer competition in Utah, 51 boys and coaches have already been ejected from games.

Clearfield High’s Suzy Jensen and Highland High’s Paul Schulte were among the principals who discussed the troubling number of ejections at a recent monthly meeting of Region 6 principals. Then just days later on March 25, Jensen and Schulte found themselves dealing with the issue in the form of a scary, sobering situation seldom seen in local prep sports.

During that Tuesday afternoon game between Highland and Clearfield, a fight broke out. A Clearfield player was beaten so badly during the fight that his eye was swollen shut and he was diagnosed with a concussion, Jensen said. As of Friday, he had not returned to school.

“Honestly, I’m really concerned about it,” Jensen said. “It was brought up at our Region Board of Managers meeting, and then right after we had that meeting, there was this altercation.”

Schulte took immediate action removing one player who was involved in a verbal altercation with fans from the team, while the senior who hit the Clearfield player was suspended indefinitely.

The family of the injured teen filed a police report. Schulte said Clearfield police showed up at Highland High on Wednesday and arrested the 18-year-old player. He was taken to jail and booked for investigation of assault, although formal charges will be determined by Davis County prosecutors.

“We’re committed to having good sportsmanship,” Schulte told the Deseret News. “When this happened, we moved aggressively.”

Schulte is also requiring his coach to sit out a game, and lead the team in performing community service.

“We wanted to emphasize that when the team is out of control, that’s the coach’s responsibility to keep things under control,” he said.

Soccer ejections

Sportsmanship and ejection issues are not new to the sport. In fact, the sport was put on probation twice in the last two decades as the Utah High School Activities Association grapples with how to deal with the situation.

Last year during the 2012-13 school year, boys soccer in Utah had 119 ejections (107 students and 12 coaches), while all other sports combined had 121 ejections. The sport was put on probation in June of 2007 after 111 ejections that season.

The most recent discussions began on March 18 at the UHSSA’s executive committee when an ejection report revealed that the sport had already seen 22 ejections through just two weeks of competition. While that number was high enough to prompt principals to discuss possible solutions and sanctions, that number more than doubled just one week later to 51 ejections.

“This is what I’m worried about,” said supervisor of officials Mike Petty, who presented both reports to UHSAA representatives. While some of the ejections can be explained by a rule change implemented by the National Federation that governs prep sports associations, many are due to poor sportsmanship.

“Of the 51 ejections, 14 of those were from players receiving a second yellow card (which results in an automatic red card and ejection),” Petty said. Those are fouls that likely wouldn't result in an ejection in other sports. Instead, they're ejections that come after a player receives a second yellow card, which can be for a simple rule violation like encroachment, and it's a situation that's unique to soccer.

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