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Fight at kids game highlights trend of abusive fans

Posted: 6:44 PM, Jun 19, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-19 21:11:43-04

LAKEWOOD – The worst of youth sports was on full display this weekend as parents and coaches got into a fist fight at a baseball game for 7-year-olds in Lakewood. The police department shared video clips of the brawl on social media asking the public to help identify one of the individuals in fight. The video went viral, with more than 1 million views on Twitter and more than 900 shares on Facebook.

“You can see those children run off the field as their parents and coaches start fighting each other. It’s really disheartening to see that,” said John Romero, Public Information Officer for the Lakewood Police.

He said one person suffered serious bodily injuries during the fight. Five others have since been cited for disorderly conduct. Officers are looking for another man who could be facing assault charges.

The melee shines a bright light a troubling trend in youth sports, a shortage of officials brought on, in part, by abusive behavior coming from the stands. The Colorado High School Activities Association reported having hundreds fewer umpires and referees to officiate games this past fall.

Cliff Baker is a referee with 30 years experience officiating high school and college games. He and fellow referee Micah Pauldino started Mile High Officials a few years ago as a contracting business for referees.

“Its hard to get people to do it, especially now seeing a situation like this, it makes people who are reluctant to do it even more reluctant,” Baker said.

The non-profit Gold Crown Foundation hosts multiple youth sports events for thousands of kids at their Lakewood campus.  Officiating Director Brian Lee said he’ll train up to 600 refs a year. He too sees the shortage in game officials and said they’re getting creative to try and address it.

“We offer professional development for the officials, we’re trying to do conflict resolution training,” Lee said. “We’re trying to do what we can.”

Gold Crown will also hold a Referee Appreciation Week and host Silent Games where fans are asked to only clap in support of their team and to not boo or heckle. The idea is to cool some of the emotion of the game.

“We’re trying different things and we definitely want to be part of the solution,” Lee said.

But the Gold Crown is just one venue in an ever growing field of youth sports. Baker thinks regardless of the venue, there should be clear expectations set about behavior in youth sports.

“I think that what most of these events should do is have a policy in place not conduct or bad policy with parents and coaches and players.”