The Carroll County Youth Football League executive board has taken disciplinary action in the aftermath of a 13-year-old division game in September that never ended after it devolved into a fight involving 30 people and resulted in the arrest of two parents of Carroll County players. Yet the coach and other witnesses associated with the team from Montgomery County are accusing the board of racism and say violence at the game unfolded in a racially hostile environment.
The game between the North Carroll Colts and Olney Bears, from Montgomery County, which took place Sept. 25 at Christmas Tree Park in Manchester, led to the arrest Nicole Starr Ellis, 31, and Keith Gregory Lockner, 32, of Reisterstown. Both were charged with second-degree assault, according to electronic court records. Police said the two were charged with assaulting minors and that more arrests may be forthcoming as the investigation into the melee continues.
The league executive board has since expelled and suspended multiple people connected to both programs, according to the executive board.
“Unfortunately, there is a misconception that this has been concluded,” the Carroll County Youth Football League board wrote in an email. “However, we continue to partner with local law enforcement in charge of this active investigation. As additional details emerge the CCYFL will continue to evaluate and take further actions as necessary.”
Manchester Police Chief John Hess said his department has met with the state’s attorney to review cellphone and video camera records of the game.
“We want to make sure we are covering every base because we cannot tolerate this type of action,” Hess said about the state attorney’s office’s involvement.
On Wednesday, Hess said police have to interview a witness for clarification as well as two other people involved. He said he expects they can conclude their investigation early next week.
After viewing the video camera footage of the game, Hess said he “clearly saw Olney coaches and parents assault some individuals.” He also said witnesses reported that parents of both North Carroll and Olney players were using racial epithets, including one of the arrested parents.
“We have no evidence of this language being used on any of the video footage and there was some ground level footage in very close proximity of the melee,” Hess wrote in an email.
The Carroll County Times has not determined the sources of the video footage.
Hess said he saw no evidence a hate crime was committed.
Allen Culver, the acting state’s attorney, said he could not speak on the details of the case but defined a hate crime as “a crime motivated in whole or in substantial part by another person or group’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability or national origin.”
Hess said law enforcement is considering filing charges against people connected to the Olney team. He said no evidence has been found to further charge people associated with North Carroll.
The board’s decision
Although the Carroll County Youth Football League executive board declined to identify who had been suspended and expelled since the game, Kirk Robinson, head coach of Olney’s team, said he was among them. Robinson said he did not agree with the decision.
In an interview, Robinson said he has been suspended by the league from coaching for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. Robinson, whose child plays on the Olney team, said he will be allowed to attend games as a parent spectator but not permitted to talk to the athletes, referees and coaches during games and cannot participate in any pregame activities. Any violations, he said, would result in the Bears forfeiting the game.
Since each football program has its own rules, Robinson said another team in the league banned him from their games as both a spectator and coach.
Robinson said he was initially suspended for two games because he used curse words during the game when he disagreed with a referee’s call prior to the fight. The league stated his suspension was due to a violation of the Coaches Code of Conduct. Additional action took place, however, that resulted in Robinson’s suspension. Robinson, who is Black, said he was only defending his family and team when the fight happened.
“I have no problem dealing with any punishment that comes,” he said, “but it shouldn’t be so extreme for defending children and my wife.”
The league executive board stated its rulings were based on information provided by police, referees and video footage. The board said it held a hearing Oct. 17 to review an appeal of some of its disciplinary actions, and Robinson was subsequently suspended for the rest of the season.
“Those who attended [the Oct. 17 hearing] spoke directly to the voting members of the CCYFL, resulting in a final decision on those disciplinary actions,” the board stated.
Andy Kiler, executive board president of North Carroll Recreation Council, the sports oversight body under the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks, said the board took disciplinary action against several people associated with the North Carroll team but declined to provide specifics.
Attempts to reach parents or representatives from the North Carroll team for comment were unsuccessful.
Parents respond to discipline
Kiler said the disciplinary actions by the Carroll County Youth Football League executive board were fair and noted there was no evidence of racism during the game.
Robinson and parents of players on Olney’s team, however, stated racism was evident throughout the game and even during the hearing on Oct. 17.
One of the people who gave a statement at the hearing was Rachel Carroll, Olney’s team photographer and a parent of one of the team’s players. She recounted the events and noted that those involved in the fight were protecting the players and their families from North Carroll parents and supporters.
“If this was your child hit, your wife shoved, your mother pushed, how would you react?” Carroll’s statement read.
Carroll also made a social media post that received over 1,100 shares on Facebook criticizing the actions of the Carroll County Youth Football League board.
In the post, Carroll wrote, “The families and community of Olney and the [Olney Boys and Girls Community] program want to see real change, remove the good ol boy system and institution of racism, end the witch hunt into what is and has already been identified. Olney coaches and parents protected women and children when society, the community, the Manchester law enforcement, and the CCYFL did not.”
Robinson said the board wanted Carroll to take down the post, and she refused.
“The programs within our league are expected to be self-policing, I am sure we can all agree that the defamatory social media posts have instigated and added fuel to this fire,” the CCYFL board stated. “For this reason, we asked that any posts/comments containing threats of harm or violence be removed or they would be forwarded to authorities.”
Carroll did not make threats of harm or violence in the post.
Tamisha Reid, of Gaithersburg, also gave a statement during the hearing. She said her 13-year-old brother, who is Black, was one of the Olney players assaulted and called a racial epithet by Ellis, who was arrested. Reid called the league negligent for not maintaining order and said Olney parents were trying to protect their families.
Robinson, the Olney team coach, and Carroll also said Ellis used racial epithets.
Reid said her brother has been playing football since he was 6, and, in her experience, parents on opposing sides would argue among themselves at games.
“That’s one thing, but for them to be assaulting the kids, that’s something else,” Reid said.
Joseph Ashley, a lawyer representing Ellis, denies the accusation his client called a player a racial epithet. As for the assault charge, Ashley said his client and Lockner were acting in self-defense.
“They anticipated they were going to be assaulted and they reacted appropriately under the circumstances,” he said. “We are eager to prove our side of the story in court.”
Also during the Carroll County Youth Football League executive board hearing on Oct. 17, Robinson, Reid and Carroll also accused board members of making racist comments. Robinson said he called the league racist.
The Carroll County Times did not have access to the actual statements made at the meeting.
The board called Robinson’s allegation “completely false.”
The Olney team staff is majority Black, Robinson said. The players are not. Robinson, Reid and Carroll all said racist comments were made by North Carroll parents and players and directed toward some of the five players of color on the Olney team. Robinson said later this was not the first time racist language was used against his team when it played North Carroll. He said he tells his players not to stoop to that level and ignore it.
Now, he said, they’re tired of it.
“We’re tired of turning the other cheek,” Robinson said. “We have no more cheeks to turn, and we shouldn’t have to.”
Based on the actions made by the board and the comments made by parents, Robinson said the board has done nothing to protect his character.
“They tried to paint a picture that we were thugs,” he said, “and that’s the furthest thing from the truth.”