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Nick Carroll

A sneaker flew through the air and cleared the plexiglass that separated spectators from players. The shoe tumbled downward from the upper balcony just missing the helmet of a player exiting the rink.  

A brawl between Irish Rover and opposing fans ensued.  

The Ice Box, a dingy hockey rink on the south side of South Bend, featured some of the most unruly behavior known to youth athletics.

Personally, I thrived when the atmosphere was at fever pitch. And perhaps as a player I was guilty of agitating actions.  

My trash talk on the ice was legendary, deserving of recognition by the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

My goal scoring celebrations were simply acts of theater. After burying the biscuit in the basket, I might skate to center ice and give the mile-high salute or use my hockey stick to shoot adoring fans. 

Needless to say, borderline obnoxious behavior at sporting events is something I’m well versed in. 

My coaching idols growing up were Mike Ditka, Bobby Knight and Lou Holtz. A trio of loudmouths rarely confused for choirboys. 

Back to the shoe incident. That game took place at the annual Shillelagh Tournament. Drew J., an undersized nimble skater known for his quick feet and his ability to fake injuries, laid on the ice like a dead possum. 

Anytime Drew met physical contact, he would crumble like an over baked cookie. 

In the 2nd period, Drew got blasted at center ice and laid like a corpse on the chalky colored surface for minutes. Slowly Drew got up and limped to the locker room. The referee did not issue a penalty because the hit was completely legal. 

Drew’s mom disagreed. After berating officials for the rest of the period (a common occurrence) Annie J. decided it was time to make her opinions louder. Annie untied her shoe and hurled it at the opposing player as he left the ice. 

Incidents like this were all too common at the Ice Box, and therefore, the Irish Youth Hockey League instituted a Zero Tolerance policy.  

The shoe incident is a prime example of horrific sportsmanship.  25 years later, I still cringe thinking about it. No longer was the game about me and my friends; the focus of the game became the parents. Needless to say, I was embarrassed. 

Fast forward to Saturday. Needless to say, I was embarrassed, again.

Not for me, but for the kids. Let’s look at this from an overhead angle. 

Rewind to 2018.  The Capon Bridge Football program doesn’t exist.  Bobcat players seeking to play football were forced to wear Romney Pioneer gear, with practices and home games on Sunrise Summit. Due to a lack of players, CBMS shut down football in 2018, sending their players to their rival, big brother Romney. 

Fast forward to 2021. Spurred by the Capon Bridge Bengals youth football program, a talented class of 8th graders led the Bobcats to unprecedented heights.

A 7-2 overall record including a PVL semifinal playoff thriller. But none of that mattered Saturday evening. The focus was the fans.

Did CB fans have the right to be fuming? Yes. Were there questionable decisions and unclear procedures from the onset? Yes.  Should the Tucker Valley game administrator (AD or designee) be held responsible for some of the chaos? Yes. 

Were Tucker fans equally obnoxious and guilty of escalating the situation?

Absolutely, yes. 

Did the situation warrant vulgar language, offensive gestures and physical violence? No.

I heard a few players yell at their parents to just shut-up.  

Incredible feats of athleticism, including a 1-handed interception and a 7th grader with lightning in his cleats were overshadowed by postgame antics of adults.

Nobody asked me how Capon Bridge scored. Nobody asked me how the players played. 

What a shame!

They wanted to know how the fight started? Who threw punches? Did the police get called? 

Truth be told, those Bobcats fought their tail off. Those kids deserve applause for their performance, win or lose. 

Would a Zero Tolerance policy help reduce incidents like this? Maybe. But let’s agree that behavior like this should not be tolerated and that something needs to be done.  

Nickpicking

Part of the reason Bobcat fans were displeased on Saturday was the clear confusion regarding who has authority to evaluate a player and clear him to play. Said player, was not allowed to reenter the game after clearing tests for a possible concussion.

For the benefit of youth football across the nation, setting uniform standards regarding health protocols is imperative for the future success of the sport. 

Can you rank the power of command for the following? 

  •  Full-time school nurse
  •  Certified athletic trainer
  •  Game administrator 
  •  Paramedic
  •  Head official 

Correct answer? It depends.  

What level? 

What state?  

What parties are present?

These are all factors that influence the priority order. 

Not knowing who supersedes who when a players health is on the line, is a formula bound to cause chaos. How about when one of those factions is not present? What happens then?

Youth Football needs help. Nationally, numbers continue to plummet as concerns with health and safety have persuaded parents to find alternative activities.

In order to survive, youth football needs an overhaul including clear language regarding safety and health. ο

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