There have been at least six cases within the last year of soccer referees being assaulted either by players or parents in the Washington area, according to Don Dennison, the president of the Metropolitan Soccer Referees Association.
Dennison, asked to comment on an incident in Montgomery County Saturday in which an official allegedly punched the parent of a player, said yesterday the official has been suspended pending a hearing within the next 10 days. The official could be suspended, fined or expelled from the organization.
Neither the referee nor the parent have been identified. Dennison described both as "responsible members of the community." The referee has been an official for two or three years and, Dennison said, "he feels great remorse about this whole thing. He knows he should not have done it. It was an instantaneous, sudden impulse, and he's very sorry."
The incident took place in a Montgomery Soccer Inc. game between 11-year-old players at the Falls Chapel Field in Rockville. According to a police report, it occurred after the referee did not make a call on a play that took place behind him.
Play was stopped when a number of parents came onto the field to protest. The verbal confrontation escalated and, according to reports, the referee hit one parent in the mouth. A District Court summons was sworn by the parent, who Montgomery County police said received seven stitches to close a mouth wound.
The referee is accused in the summons of assault and battery and a court hearing was scheduled Oct. 25. That hearing will determine whether the referee will be charged. A District Court clerk said yesterday her office still had not received the summons.
"This is the first time in my memory that an official has ever lost his cool and struck a spectator," Dennison said. "But the abuse from parents is nothing new. It's increased in intensity over the years. I think a lot of it is from people watching the pros, the general attitude toward referees. They boo and hiss and throw things, and it's filtered down to the kids' level.
"In the last calendar year, we've had six cases where people have gone after our referees. Two were by players in adult leagues, the rest involved parents in kids' games, older kids and younger kids."
The referees association has 503 members on its rolls, with about 350 active officials who cover games from children's leagues to the colleges in Maryland, Virginia and the District. The officials get paid $10 per game, and Dennison said there is about a 30 percent turnover of officials every year. There are 7,500 youth soccer players in Montgomery Soccer Inc.
"A lot of the people who give it (refereeing) a shot don't know what they're getting into," Dennison said. "After all this abuse, they say who needs this for $10 a game.
"I'm not saying this was justified. It never is unless you are being physically attacked. Verbal abuse is never a justification for attack.
"The referee had worked several games earlier in the day. He was quite tired . . . He was concentrating on the ball and he was unable to see what happened behind the ball. Parents expect you to see everything. The parent saw the foul, he came out on the field and personally abused him. Apparently, he was quite loud . . . Whatever happened, he (the referee) shouldn't have done it. He knows it."
Diane Barlow, commissioner of the league, said she had spoken with the coaches of both teams but not the referee. "Our position is that we'll try to find out what happened," she said. "It's very unfortunate.
"Our concern is conducting a program for children. Regardless of where the fault lies, it should never have happened. It's upsetting to the children and the adults. We want to find out why it happened and see if anything can be done to prevent it from happening again."