Game assault highlights problems in high school boys soccer

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

The other 37 ejections would be for behavior that's similar to the reasons for ejections in other sports. And it's those ejections that have officials concerned.

"The language, the violent conduct, things like that," Petty said. "(Things) players can do something about."

Jensen was shocked that the numbers jumped from 22 to 51 ejections in one week, especially since administrators were already alarmed about the issue.

“It’s insane,” she said. “Especially after all we’ve done. … I don’t have an answer for what’s going on.”

Volatile fans, coaches

Jensen, Schulte and Petty said administrators and coaches have had meetings with parents, players and coaches hoping to make good sportsmanship a high priority. The Utah High School Activities Association has also created and used a number of programs aimed at addressing sportsmanship with coaches and players of all sports.

But boys soccer seems to be a peculiar problem. Schulte said supervising a soccer game is one of the most stressful situations administrators face.

Jensen said the assistant principal attending the Clearfield-Highland game where the fight broke outmentioned a number of issues, but three most prominently — the proximity of fans to the field, their poor sportsmanship and the inability of officials to control the game. Jensen said the Clearfield administrator at the game said there was bantering “on both sides, with several yellow cards given.”

“(Our administrator) mentioned that he wished the officials would have maybe stepped in before it got to the point it got to,” Jensen said. “I’ve talked to other administrations about the fans. We’ve been concerned about the fans at soccer games and how volatile they can be. …They add fuel to the fire. It just seems like that’s getting out of hand.”

Viewmont High boys soccer coach Dave Wigham has 30 years of coaching experience. He also has the unique perspective of having officiated soccer games.

“One of my biggest complaints is that there is no communication between officials and coaches,” he said. “A lot of them think their two worst enemies are the two head coaches.”

He said better communication would lead to less frustration on the part of players and coaches, and it's a concern echoed by other prep coaches.

“When an official doesn’t respond to me, I think he doesn’t hear me,” Wigham said he told one official. “So I’m going to get louder.”

Petty said officials do their best to make the right calls and coaches who “chirp and carry on” may be unwittingly making the situation worse.

“The players are going to emulate the coach,” he said.

Officiating problems

But the issues regarding officiating are more complicated than whether or not the right calls are being made or whether or not they’re talking to coaches. It may have more to do with the system that officials see as beneficial to their careers.

“These officials are good officials, but they can’t always be in the right positions and they’re not physically able to keep up with the pace of the game,” Wigham said. “I talk to officials and they’re telling me all the time that they can’t get new ones.”

He said when coaches tried to address this issue a few years ago, younger officials said they had trouble getting off work for 3:30 p.m. games. That led many coaches to try to adjust their schedules to put varsity games after 5 p.m. But that time proved just as problematic as officials opted to work club games instead of high school games.

“Younger referees tell me, ‘I don’t have the time and I don’t really have to (officiate high school),” Wigham said.