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Experts meeting to find ways to curb youth sports violence

By Mario Fox Associated Press Writer
Saturday June 09, 2001

Conference will try to set guidelines for parents to follow 


ITASCA, Ill. – When a parent was seriously injured in a melee – hit between the eyes with a yard marker – at a football game in El Paso, Texas, Mayor Carlos Ramirez decided it was time to do something about the city’s growing sideline rage at youth sports events. 

Last fall, Ramirez started an anger management class for parents that was expanded into a 2 1/2-hour lesson, complete with a training manual, on sports parenting and child abuse in youth activities. About 15,000 parents have taken the course, and the lesson seems to be sinking in. 

“For the first time in many years there has not been one fight in our youth football season,” Ramirez said in an opening address Friday at a conference on how to curb violence in youth sports. 

Experts from across the country are meeting in this Chicago suburb this weekend, creating guidelines for parents and coaches. 

Fred Engh, who heads the National Alliance for Youth Sports – the sponsor of the conference – said every community will get a copy of the guidelines. 

“If communities don’t adopt this they should hang their heads in shame,” Engh said. 

The El Paso course will be the starting point for the guidelines the conference plans to develop. 

Daniel Wann, an expert on parent and spectator behavior at sporting events, said the problem with parental rage at games is the result of spectators’ natural tendency to identify with players on the field. 

“They don’t go to games to cause trouble, but they so identify with their children on the playing field they can’t get a grip,” said Wann. 

Across the country, enraged parents have attacked coaches, umpires and referees, each other, and even children. 

Some of the more notorious examples: 

– In Oklahoma in 1999, a coach had to be restrained after he starting choking an umpire during a tee-ball game for 5- and 6-year-olds. 

– In San Fernando, a father was sentenced to 45 days in jail last year for beating a coach who took his 11-year-old son out of a baseball game. 

– A parent in Reading, Mass., was beaten to death while supervising his son’s hockey pickup game last July. Authorities say another father, Thomas Junta, became upset at rough play and fought with Michael Costin, a single father of four. Junta was charged with manslaughter and awaits trial. 

In addition, violence against umpires and referees has prompted many states to get tougher. The Illinois Legislature recently passed a bill mandating penalties for people who assault sports officials, while 15 other states have similar laws.