A recent fight on the soccer field led to criminal charges against two Petaluma players, whose future with the league remains in question pending a formal review. But league officials said parents played a role in the incident, causing the Petaluma Youth Soccer Association to consider implementing code of conduct contracts for both players and parents.
"You don't think about it until something like this happens," said Petaluma Youth Soccer Association President Bill Bertolucci. "We just want to make sure this doesn't happen again."
The incident took place Oct. 20, when Petaluma's under-16 team played Sonoma Valley's under-16 at Sonoma Valley High School. Following a hard foul, two Petaluma players, ages 14 and 16, began shoving a 14-year-old Sonoma player. The 14-year-old Petaluma player allegedly kicked the Sonoma player in the head, causing a concussion and an ambulance ride to Sonoma Valley Hospital. When one of the game's referees attempted to break up the fight, she was pushed to the ground by the 16-year-old Petaluma player.
Sgt. Dave Thompson, with the Sonoma Police Department, confirmed that the 16-year-old Petaluma player was cited for battery on a sports official and battery on school grounds; while the 14-year-old Petaluma player faces charges of battery with serious injury and battery on school grounds. Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said it was up to the police to decide whether to handle the case internally or send it to her office for potential prosecution. Thompson confirmed that he filed his report with the District Attorney's office on Oct. 23, but the DA could not comment on the status of that case since it involves juvenile offenders.
While Bertolucci wasn't at the game, he heard reports that heated remarks from parents on the sideline contributed to the commotion, a fact confirmed by Sonoma Valley Youth Soccer Association President Tom Young, who witnessed the incident.
"The parents really got too involved in this whole thing, both in Petaluma and Sonoma," Young said. "They were negative throughout the entire game, they were yelling at the ref. They were just being loud, really loud."
Young said the tension built throughout the game, and reached a boiling point when a tackling foul occurred at the beginning of the second half. "I just could not calm the parents down," he said. "It was really a sad, unfortunate thing to happen."
Bertolucci said, at the beginning of each season, coaches discuss sportsmanship and appropriate behavior with players and parents, but currently they are not required to sign a code of conduct contract.
"We explain that the parents are there to cheer on the players," he said, "not to rile them up."
Such contracts are growing in popularity in youth sports. Young said that players, parents and coaches in Sonoma Valley are all required to sign code of conduct contracts before every season.
Bertolucci said the two Petaluma players have been "suspended indefinitely" while officials wait for word from the Cal North Youth Soccer Association, the body that oversees both the Petaluma and Sonoma leagues. He said any time a player is suspended from the field, the three referees present at the game submit reports to the association, which then makes a ruling about the players' fate. Both players could be suspended for a set number of games (to be determined by the association) or banned from participating in the league altogether. This is uncharted waters for Bertolucci, who said he's never seen a player face criminal charges during his decades with the league. The association should have its ruling by the end of the week.