The following article from Doug Pacey of the Tacoma News Tribune came across the wire Thursday. I thought it was appropriate to share it here.
Gig Harbor’s boys soccer team, tied atop the Narrows League Class 4A standings, is one excessively-hard slide tackle, thrown elbow or curse word from being banned from the postseason.
The Tides could become the first team disqualified by a rule implemented this season by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association that aims to curb violent conduct and abusive language in soccer. Teams that receive three such red cards will be eliminated from postseason contention. Gig Harbor has two. “It’s pretty severe,” Tides coach Todd Northstrom said. “No other sport does this. We’re kind of living in fear now. It’s incredibly stressful.” As of Tuesday, Gig Harbor and Wapato, a Class 2A team that competes in the Central Washington Athletic Conference, are the only teams in the state that have accumulated two violent conduct or abusive language red cards and have been put on probation, said WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese. Had the same rule been in place last season, one team would have been banned from the postseason, had it qualified. The on-field behavior of boys soccer players has been an issue for years, Colbrese said. Two years ago, the WIAA told coaches that play must be cleaned up or the association would take action. That spurred the South Puget Sound League 4A to put in place a rule similar to the one the WIAA Executive Board approved in September. The returns have been positive. Tony Davis, SPSL 4A soccer commissioner and athletic director at Tahoma High School, said he knows of only one player from the SPSL North and South divisions that has been ejected from a game this season and no teams are in jeopardy of missing the postseason. “We did something a year ago and that kind of stemmed the tide,” Davis said. “The coaches did a nice job reining it in, but I’m not sure there was a huge problem in our league to begin with.” Maybe not in the SPSL, but other leagues weren’t so well-behaved. In 2010, 94 players were ejected from games for violent conduct or abusive language. With a month left in the 2011 season, 41 players have been kicked out of games. That tells Colbrese the rule is achieving its purpose. “I think it’s working,” Colbrese said, “and I think people understand that what we’re talking about is a serious issue.” Northstrom doesn’t disagree with Colbrese. The coach’s frustration lies with the fact that there is no way to appeal a referee’s decision to eject a player. “There’s no due process,” he said. “I’d get over it if there was a simple process.” Northstrom does not dispute the first ejection, received by Conor Larson in a victory against Shelton on March 22, but he disagreed with the violent conduct red card given to goalkeeper Korey Durkee in a 2-1 loss to Bellarmine Prep on March 24. Trailing 2-1 in the final minute, Northstrom sent Durkee into the Lions’ goal box to try to convert a corner-kick into a game-tying goal. The 6-foot-3 Durkee went up for the ball and landed on a Bellarmine Prep player. The official ruled that Durkee exhibited violent conduct and issued him a red card, resulting in a mandatory three-game suspension. Northstrom said there was nothing excessive about Durkee’s actions and that the Lions player even sent Durkee a text the next day, saying he knew Durkee did not intentionally try to hurt him. Gig Harbor appealed Durkee’s violent conduct red card to the Narrows League, West Central District and WIAA, and was denied each time. Colbrese said an official’s “judgment call” cannot be appealed. Since then, officials working Gig Harbor games have been notified of the Tides’ probationary status. If Gig Harbor reaches the postseason, a three-person committee, in addition to officials on the field, will be on-site for its matches. If an official issues a Tides player a violent conduct or abusive language red card, play will be halted and, according to the WIAA, “the committee will hear an appeal if needed.” If the ejection is upheld, Gig Harbor’s season will end immediately. Northstrom said the two violent cards are the first any of his players have received since he took over the team in 2003. He doesn’t want Gig Harbor to be perceived as a renegade program. “We’re not a ragged bunch of ruffians,” he said. Northstrom said his players, to their credit, have handled the situation well. The Tides are on a seven-game winning streak and, with four remaining games, including contests against co-leaders Stadium and Bellarmine Prep, have a chance to claim a regular season league title for the first time since 2005. “The guys have put it behind them,” Northstrom said. “They’re focusing on the future.”