Soccer League Weighs Penalties After Brawl

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After a violent clash involving parents and spectators at a match, American Youth Soccer Organization officials said Wednesday that they might expel both teams for the rest of the season and ban those who took part in the fight from future games.

Calling the melee the worst in league history, organization leaders said they also would take immediate steps to prevent future episodes by increasing security at league tournaments and by expanding a new pilot education program aimed at defusing sideline tensions.

"This is something that has never happened before at AYSO," said Lolly Keys, a spokeswoman for the AYSO National Support and Training Center in Hawthorne. "There have been occasional tussles, but nothing like this. We're dismayed, but we think we can avoid this happening again in the future."

Organization officials said they have grown increasingly concerned over the conduct of parents, who are now more likely than their children to challenge referees or taunt players.

Problems, they say, are most likely to occur at all-star tournaments like the one Sunday in San Juan Capistrano, in which three adults were arrested in a fight that the Orange County Sheriff's Department said involved more than 30 people.

Coaches from the teams have given different descriptions of the event, and youth soccer officials said they are still trying to piece together the circumstances. On Wednesday, officials suggested that a months-long rivalry between the two teams might be to blame.

American Youth Soccer Organization directors in Palmdale and Chino, the two regions that competed in the tournament, are interviewing participants and will recommend action after talking with national and Southern California directors. Possible consequences include disbanding both teams for the remainder of the summer season as well as barring team coaches or parents from games if they were involved in the battle. Players could be expelled, although officials said it does not appear any of the 14-year-olds were at fault.

"Unfortunately, parents can act like a herd of animals, and unless you have a whole troop out there watching them, sometimes there's not much that can be done," Keys said.

According to the Sheriff's Department, the violence broke out after an assistant coach for the Chino team, which won 2-0, allegedly tried to pick a fight with a Palmdale player. In reaction, parents from the Palmdale team rushed onto the field to defuse the tension. But authorities said they succeeded only in drawing more adults into the fray, with one swinging a metal rod.

By the time it was over, one parent needed treatment for minor cuts and a swollen eye, and another suffered a 2-inch bite on his arm. Deputies arrested one Chino parent, Mark Kaylor, on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. Orange County prosecutors charged David Richard Vargas and Margaret Jessica Ramirez with resisting or obstructing a police officer.

The brawl was a troubling spectacle for the young players who had just completed their game, in which the top players from the two cities were chosen to compete.

"I was getting my snack and turned around and everyone was fighting," said Manuel Tapia Jr., a Chino Chiefs player. "There were, like, parents arguing and they were hitting each other. It was just, like, really scary. It was shocking. Soccer is supposed to be a fun game, and not, like, fighting and stuff."

Several parents rounded up the children and kept them away from the fighting in the parking lot, Tapia said.

Jesse Elizondo, the Palmdale coach, said tensions had been simmering between the two teams since early this year, and that players clashed at two previous tournaments. In Elizondo's view, coaches of the Chino team encouraged the aggressive behavior.

"I think it's some kind of tactic they use, intimidation," Elizondo said. "Then this weekend, when I found out we were playing Chino, I said, 'This is no good.' "

On Wednesday night, about 30 Palmdale players and parents assembled at the team's home soccer field to discuss the incident with Elizondo. Fernando Ramirez, 40, the father of a player, said he was struck on the head with an umbrella during the brawl. "I was just trying to split people up, and the next thing I know I was hit and bleeding," Ramirez said. "My head's still sore."

In light of an increase in bad behavior by parents, as well as more violent episodes in other youth sports on the East Coast, the league last year began a pilot program it dubbed "Kids Zone."

The program, which began near San Diego last fall, requires parents to sign pledges at the beginning of each season, promising that they will not disrupt games with aggressive yelling or actions.

The organization says it will speed up implementation of this program as a result of Sunday's fight.

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Times staff writers Martha A. Willman in Palmdale and Thuy Doan Le in Chino contributed to this story.

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