In the midst of competition, emotions can run high and sportsmanship lines are sometimes blurred.
Ending games early — making a decision to stop play for something other than weather or a sport’s “mercy” rule — is rare in these parts, however. That’s why Tuesday night’s boys lacrosse game between Westminster and Mount St. Joseph goes down as an outlier.
The Owls led 10-5 early in the fourth quarter when officials from the Southern Lacrosse Officials Association met with coaches from both teams and agreed to stop playing because of safety concerns. There were penalties and ejections from each team leading up to the decision.
Games have been stopped before because of similar incidents, but it’s more likely to happen with mere seconds remaining and a score that is perhaps deemed lopsided. Weather-related issues also crop up, and contests can be suspended or postponed because of lightning or bad storms.
But halting a game with nearly one full period to go is rare, according to school officials from Carroll County and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association. Some of those Carroll officials can recall only one other time a situation such as Tuesday’s played out the same way within the county, and that happened 15 years ago.
A boys lacrosse game in May of 2004 between South Carroll and Liberty was stopped late in the fourth quarter when a melee ensued on the field that involved players and adult spectators. The brawl was captured on video from the county’s local cable network, which was at Liberty High School to broadcast the game, and resulted in suspensions and removal of some players from each team.
Tuesday’s game between Westminster and Mount St. Joe didn’t reach that level, but the decision to end things early still resonated.
“We’ve had ugly games, but it hasn’t happened like that,” said Brian Booz, an assistant principal at Westminster High School who played lacrosse in the county and coached the sport for 12 years.
Booz said he remembers games during which tempers flared and the style became physical, but coaches gathered their players and urged them to compose themselves so the contest could be finished. Even games that involved long stoppages of play because of injuries were completed, Booz said.
Carroll might not be one of those counties with frequent incidents, but some say the rest of the state has its share of issues to solve during sporting events. John Sheehan, SLOA’s scholastic lacrosse assignor, said via email such situations happen “more than you would think.”
“The officials always consider the safety of the student athletes No. 1 when making these sort of decisions,” Sheehan said.
MIAA executive director Lee Dove said he spoke with the athletic directors of both schools, Westminster’s Terry Molloy and Mount St. Joseph’s Kraig Loovis, about Tuesday’s game. Dove said both Molloy and Loovis are handling the issue professionally within their athletic departments.
Molloy said he agreed with the officials’ decision to stop the game. Loovis declined to comment for this story.
Dove, a former longtime AD at Archbishop Spalding, has been the MIAA’s executive director for six years. Dove said he can’t remember a lacrosse game ending in such a fashion.
“I’m not faulting the officials here by any means … they do have an obligation to take [safety] into consideration,” Dove said. “I’m sure this was not a light decision they made.”
Dave Dolch, Carroll County’s supervisor of athletics, watched Tuesday’s game from the sideline and said the SLOA officials on hand “with great care.” Dolch estimated one lacrosse game per season around the state gets stopped early for something other than weather.
“You see it from time to time, especially if you’ve been around different counties and involved with multiple sports,” Dolch said.
Ross Burbage, a teacher at Francis Scott Key High School and veteran official for soccer and lacrosse, cited the Liberty-SC game from 2004 as the only other time he could remember a similar situation. Burbage, an assignor for soccer officials for Maryland Soccer Referees, said he has been doing high school lacrosse games for more than 20 years.
“I have never had a high school game that I officiated that we could not finish,” Burbage said. “To have it halted that way is extremely rare.”