It was a chilly Saturday night, and attendance was modest when Montgomery hosted Campolindo in a recent North Coast Section boys soccer playoff game. But a group of about 15 Monty students made up for low numbers with high energy. The kids wore costumes and carried signs and cardboard cutouts into the stadium, and in addition to cheering on the Vikings, they heckled the visiting Cougars relentlessly during the game.
“Hey, 12, your cleats are ugly!”
“Cute gloves, 10!”
And one aimed at Campolindo player Seppi Ortman: “You’re a guppy, Seppi!”
The taunts were personal, but delivered with humor. Even the Cougars couldn’t help but crack an occasional smile.
But deep into the first half, the referee suddenly stopped play and approached Montgomery coach Jon Schwan on the sideline. One of Campolindo’s top players, Rupert Dusauzay, is black, and members of the Campo coaching staff were concerned they had heard a racial slur weaved into the patter. “I’m OK with the cheering,” the referee said. “Just make sure it’s nothing offensive.”
Montgomery athletic director Dean Haskins made a beeline for the student section and quietly reminded the fans of what constitutes acceptable behavior in the stands.
In truth, it seems unlikely the Vikings fans yelled anything racially derogative. That would have been out of character with the tenor of their cheering, and one of Montgomery’s most popular players, goalkeeper Jordan Page, is African-American. But the lightning-fast response of the referee, and the Montgomery sideline, is indicative.
High schools can’t afford to let fans venture into the realm of verbal abuse — or violence.
In gyms and on fields all over America, it’s a real problem. A brief news survey turned up a 15-year-old who was shot in the leg outside of an Indianapolis gym on Jan. 22 as a high school basketball game concluded; a pair of hockey referees who were assaulted by parents after a hockey game in New Jersey on Feb. 7; and a chaotic fight after a basketball game in Ventura on Feb. 12.
“I went down last year and scouted Salesian,” Cardinal Newman boys basketball coach Tom Bonfigli said. “Salesian was playing El Cerrito, and in the stands two guys were squaring off. They had to stop the game and remove them from the gym. It was about a guy making comments about a player, another guy’s son.”
We haven’t had a lot of violent confrontations reported here in the Redwood Empire. But our slate isn’t clean, either.
When the Petaluma boys basketball team played at Elsie Allen on Jan. 19, an adult Petaluma fan was reprimanded for words directed at a Lobos player. Steven Thrasher, the father of one Elsie Allen teammate, believes the fan had mocked the other player about his weight. When Elsie was scheduled to play at Petaluma on Feb. 10, some Lobos players reportedly considered boycotting the game.
(Elsie Allen coach Madison Lott referred comment to principal Mary Gail Stablein, who did not return phone calls or emails to The Press Democrat. UPDATE: Stablein responded later, and forwarded an open letter sent by the Lobos to the Trojans, which you can read here. )
Fortunately for everyone, the situation was resolved amicably.
“We had a great game when Elsie returned,” Petaluma High principal David Stirrat said. “Some of their concerns were from the past, and they were valid. Elsie Allen administrators and I met, we came to an agreement to go ahead and the game went off fine.”