Jay Anthony trailed the parents following the referee into the Circleville Park parking lot — just in case.
Just in case the couple, upset with the official’s calls, had something rude to say to him.
An hour earlier, the referee ejected their son during a Town of Wallkill Soccer Club under-16 game for rough play. The player retaliated by taking off his jersey and throwing it in the ref’s face.
In the parking lot, she pushed the referee, swinging her arms wildly, as a crowd gathered.
This was almost two years ago. Anthony thinks things might have escalated even further if, by chance, a Town of Wallkill police cruiser hadn’t rolled into the parking lot.
The soccer mom took off on foot.
Anthony and the referee stood together in shock.
"It was very disappointing that something like that happened at our park," said Anthony, Town of Wallkill’s president from 1997 to 2006. "I’ve seen players do that, but never a parent. It was quite embarrassing."
These days, youth sports officials — from travel soccer teams to Little League — are often left blushing because of behavior like this from not only parents, but coaches and players.
It seems everyone has a horror story to tell.
Town of Montgomery Little League president Wayne Vetro has kicked a player out of the league for chasing another with a bat.
He’s seen a grandparent, upset about his grandson’s playing time, instruct the child to sit on the mound in protest.
Vetro suspended a manager for the season two years ago for a grabbing a player by the shoulder.
"These aren’t things that happen every year," said Vetro, president of the league for 22 years. "But things like this should never happen. I think parents just become very sensitive when their child is involved."
Vinny Roberto, 34, who coaches his son’s Mamakating Little League minor team added: "Some of the parents and coaches, they actually get more fired up than the kids. They go bananas. I’ve seen a couple of times last year when they were climbing on the fences and yelling at umpires. I think these are people who didn’t make the high school team when they were playing, trying to live through their kids."
Sure, incidents like these might be isolated, but this isn’t why the kids play the games.
Still, more and more incidents like these — from Monticello to Marlboro — are popping up.
"I wish I knew, I’d have a Ph.D.," said Paul Lloyd, who founded the Hudson Valley Polar Bears ice hockey team in 1997. "I don’t mean to hang parents out to dry, but some can be very tough to deal with. The way they talk to referees and coaches is unacceptable."
According to David Czesniuk, director of operations at Boston’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, parents can act out for several reasons.
Czesniuk subscribes to Roberto’s theory.
Yes, Czesniuk said, parents often live through their children’s accomplishments on the field. If their kid doesn’t perform well, doesn’t make the team, doesn’t play enough, etc., mom and dad’s egos get bruised as well, maybe even more. That can be a problem.
Today’s youth scene is more pressurized, Czesniuk added, with specialization in one sport and parents looking for a scholarship. No matter how good their child is.
"Years ago, sports were about community," Czesniuk said. "Now, a lot of times, it’s different. Some of these sports runs peoples lives."
To keep the peace, keep everyone in line, Czesniuk stresses leagues enforcing code of conducts. Everyone should sign them — parents, and many times, coaches and players also.
If a parent signs the contract and breaks the rules, he could face a sit-down with league officials to discuss the matter. Short- or long-term suspensions are also possible punitive actions.
Anthony adopted a code of conduct shortly after soccer mom’s mad dash in the parking lot. Her son was suspended for two years by the Eastern New York Soccer Association. Anthony could have appealed the ruling. He didn’t. Anthony said the league’s had very few incidents since.
Monroe United Soccer Club implemented a code of conduct five years ago after some parents routinely harassed referees during games. Phil Summers, the team’s director of coaching, said he and other board members also monitor games closely.
If a parent becomes unruly, Summers or a board member will introduce themselves, and tell the parent to tone it down a notch.
"There is a big referee shortage," Summer said, "and I think that’s because they don’t want to get paid $30 to get yelled at. My daughter was a referee in high school, but she quit because of all the abuse she was taking."
Summers said the league has suspended parents, but the code of conduct works well.
However, in the heat of the moment, when an aggressive parent is upset with a coach or ref, defusing the situation immediately is essential.
"If a parent is upset with me after a game, I have a 24-hour rule," said Dwight Healey, a coach with the Hudson Valley Polar Bears. "I don’t talk to them. It’s important that they don’t act too quickly, but also, that the coach doesn’t act too quickly. That leads to bad things. I walk away and we can have a sit-down when everyone is calm."
Unfortunately these types of incidents happen far too often, though with HSC we have been lucky and avoided it thus far. We have published Parents, Players and Coach’s Codes of Conduct. In the past we have handed them out to team parents at the start of the Fall season. That is a lot of paper, so I have listed them below.
Thank you for you cooperation in the past and for the future.
Haverford Soccer Club