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Alleged punch by parent draws scorn

A parent allegedly punched an eighth-grade basketball player in the face Sunday in Medford, sparking reaction and speculation.

A 44-year-old Northern California man allegedly came out of the stands and punched a Hidden Valley player during an on-the-court altercation involving the man's son during the South Medford Winter Jam tournament at Central Medford High School.

The other club team involved was the Humboldt Wild of Arcata, California.

The player suffered a lacerated eyebrow that required 10 stitches to close the gash, the Grants Pass Daily Courier reported.

According to multiple reports, two opposing players exchanged punches following a foul before some spectators exited the stands to intervene. Emails to the Mail Tribune, social media posts and comments on online stories paint different pictures of what exactly ensued, and video evidence has yet to confirm a parent punching a player.

Vern Loy, the director of Rogue Valley Basketball Officials Association, was not at the contest but spoke with the two officials working the game afterward in an association meeting.

"Quite frankly, you can talk about those things all day and all night, but you can never expect anything like that to happen," said Loy, who was an official for 24 years and who is in his 16th year as commissioner. "Both officials were visibly shaken and gave testimonials. In my 40 years being involved I've never had anything like that happen. It's a learning lesson for everyone, including myself."

During the meeting, Loy said he asked the officials if they had noticed anything indicating that trouble was brewing, and neither did.

"After both players threw punches the officials got between them and kept them apart before the parents came out of the stands," Loy said. "(The officials) wished they could have gotten in front of (the parent who allegedly threw the punch), but realistically I'm not sure they could have stopped him. ... I truly feel there is so much conflicting testimony because everyone was in shock. Everyone took a snapshot picture in their minds and, quite often, that snapshot will look different.

"There was a gym supervisor there and another coach who helped escort the man out of the gym. The gym supervisor got people back in the stands and calmed them down. It just happened so quickly."

Kym Kemp, of news website Redheaded Blackbelt, based in California, spoke with Humboldt coach Isaac Gildea, who said, "Absolutely, there was no punch thrown (by a parent)."

The tournament isn't sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union, Oregon AAU commissioner Fred Banks noted.

Loy reconnected with both officials on Monday. Both will be back on the court later this week reffing high school games, Loy said.

"Both of them are bothered by it, felt badly about it and wished they could have done something different," Loy said. "But it's something no one could predict."

Hidden Valley and Humboldt were in the gold pool playing round-robin games along with Crater in the Winter Jam tournament, in its 23rd year. Twenty-six teams participated. The game on Sunday was called with 2 minutes, 28 seconds to go. The clubs were playing for a berth in an upcoming state tournament in Bend.

"This is the only thing that has ever happened like that," said Leah Singler, who helps organize the event.

The ugly scene struck a chord with several locals involved in youth sports, including South Medford girls basketball coach Tom Cole, local youth basketball director and coach Manny Crump and Southern Oregon Sports Commission chairman Dave Preszler.

None of them witnessed it but were all stunned by the news.

"It's absolutely unacceptable," Cole said. "It's a sad state when the games have become so competitive that the adults impose their position on a youth game. When adults intervene it can go from bad to drastically worse. That is the part that makes youth sports ugly. It's terrible that what comes from that is it prevents games from being what they should be: fun."

Crump, who has over 30 years of coaching experience, says parents have occasionally shown strong emotions during games but have mostly conformed to the terms of a code-of-conduct form he has them sign before their children can participate in his Manny Basketball Association.

"Parents yelling for calls is pretty normal," he said. "I don't know what happened (on Sunday), but I've never heard of a parent running down onto the court and punching a kid."

Preszler has recently examined similar issues as the SOSC focuses on sportsmanship and youth sports culture. It will unveil several public service video announcements on the topic during its annual awards banquet Feb. 9 at the Santo Community Center.

"It was disheartening to read about, not only for the safety of the players but for the referees," Preszler said. "We all want youth sports to be a positive.

"I think the focus of the public service announcements is knowing your role and understanding what your role in the game is as a player, coach and parent. When you cross those boundaries things get messy. ... We are all guilty of getting carried away at times, but the more we remind ourselves of what we are trying to achieve, the better off we can be."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt