Howard County public high school basketball coaches met last week to decry a spate of violent acts committed against them this season by parents and athletes.
Two basketball coaches, and a football coach who was a spectator at a basketball game, have reported alleged physical assaults against them during or following games.
In addition to the physical assaults, coaches also complain of verbal abuse and one incident of vandalism. After a home game Jan. 14 at Oakland Mills, coach Dave Appleby found the rear window of his car smashed.
"We felt that there's been so many incidents, some of which were really ugly, that we should step up and say something as a group rather than just sit back and observe," said Mount Hebron girls basketball coach Dave Greenberg said.
The girls basketball coaches were part of the Feb. 3 meeting, even though all of the violence has been aimed at boys basketball coaches.
At the meeting, the coaches drew up a statement that they will make public after presenting it to county school officials.
"It's a generic statement that talks about the increase in violence from vandalism to verbal assaults to physical assaults," Greenberg said.
The alleged physical assaults began Dec. 17 when the parent of a Centennial player punched Centennial varsity coach Jim Hill in the face following a game at Westminster High School. The assault occurred in darkness outside the building, according to Hill.
"As I was carrying equipment to the bus after the game I was engaged in what I thought was a low-key discussion with a parent when he suddenly punched me in the face," said Hill.
Hill said he filed a report with an off-duty state trooper providing security at the game. Hill has since decided not to press charges.
Atholton assistant football coach Larry Thompson filed a police report after he allegedly was assaulted by an Atholton parent during a basketball game last Friday. Thompson said he was sitting in the stands, where a group of Atholton parents were heckling Atholton basketball coach Jim Albert.
"Finally, in the fourth quarter I got sick of it and turned around and asked them to shut up," Thompson said. "The mother of one of the players then stood up and punched me in the eye."
Thompson, a graduate of Atholton High, where he was a National Honor Society member and a National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete scholarship winner in 1984, said: "I don't feel safe any more attending these events."
In the worst assault, captured on videotape, Oakland Mills players allegedly punched and kicked Mount Hebron assistant basketball coach Chris Robinson, shoving him into wooden bleachers. Robinson filed a police report and said he expects to press charges pending an investigation by the state's attorney.
That alleged assault took place during a two-minute brawl Jan. 29 at a game between Mount Hebron and Oakland Mills. Officials cleared the Mount Hebron gym of 700 spectators and delayed the game 50 minutes before allowing the final three minutes and forty seconds to be played.
Referees ejected one Oakland Mills player from the game, which Mount Hebron won, 69-66. School administrators later suspended three Oakland Mills players for striking a coach. In addition, one Mount Hebron player was given a school suspension for striking a player.
"This was the first time to my knowledge that kids have been suspended because they were fighting during a sports event," said county supervisor of athletics Don Disney. "It was also the first brawl in which a coach was assaulted."
Howard County policy requires that a student ejected from a game for fighting must also sit out the following game, but it requires no suspension.
"We concluded that this was unusual enough to intervene and set a precedent," Disney said.
School administrators would not disclose how long the four players disciplined for fighting will be suspended.
Coaches say they would like the county to levy a mandatory penalty for assaulting a coach. The county has a policy on drugs, alcohol and weapons that requires a 45-day suspension for violators.
"Our biggest concern is that if they assault a coach they should be done for the year," Greenberg said.
Marius Ambrose, the Maryland State Teachers Association's Howard County representative, said legislation has been introduced to make the penalty for assaulting a teacher a mandatory one-year suspension from school. House Bill 433 is in the House Ways and Means committee.
"The penalty in Howard County for assaulting a teacher is suspension to the superintendent, who can suspend up to 45 days," Ambrose said. "He also can expel the student, but only with the approval of the school board."