Soccer League Goal: Keep Adults in Line

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In the wake of a violent clash involving parents and spectators at a youth soccer match, AYSO 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 AYSO history, organization leaders said they would also take immediate steps to prevent future incidents by beefing up security at league tournaments and 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 & 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."

AYSO 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 both teams have given different descriptions of the fight, 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.

AYSO 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 coaches or parents from games if they were involved in the battle. Players could be expelled, although AYSO 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 Orange County 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. Parents from the Palmdale team rushed onto the field to defuse the tension. Authorities said they succeeded only in drawing more adults into the fray, with one swinging a metal rod.

By the time the fight 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 14-year-old 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."

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 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."

Elizondo said he isn't sure how the fight started but said the other team's assistant coach did much to inflame tensions. He contended the other team's coach began berating one of Elizondo's players and menaced him physically.

Adults on the Chino team deny those claims.

Manuel Tapia Sr., the Chino team's trainer, said the Palmdale team was looking for a fight.

"They were the ones that attacked first," Tapia said. "We have always won and they have always lost and I think that is why they were angry and wanted to fight us, because they always lose."

He said three supporters from the other team attacked Kaylor, who was later arrested for wielding a metal object. Tapia said it was that object, either a pipe or umbrella, that was being used against him. Tapia said Kaylor grabbed it out of his attackers' hands but was later found by police holding the object. Tapia also said Kaylor's wife was trying to help her husband against his attackers.

Kaylor could not be reached for comment at his Chino home. (Sheriff's officials initially reported that the team was from Chino Hills but said Wednesday that the team was actually based in Chino.)

AYSO last year began a pilot program it dubbed "Kids Zone." The program, which was begun 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. Signs are also posted on playing fields alerting spectators to forbidden behaviors and warning them that they will be removed if there is a problem. Spectators are also given "Kids Zone" buttons that, officials say, serve as silent reminders to control their behavior.

After Sunday's fight, AYSO says it will speed up implementation of the program. Keys said none of the program signs were posted at the San Juan Capistrano playing field last weekend, but that they would be there for a tournament scheduled there this weekend.

Officials are also considering adding security at the game.

"We believe it really will help," Keys said. "It puts parents and coaches on notice that this kind of behavior is not allowed."

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

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