When league officials of the Mount Pleasant Area Junior Football League near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, arrived at the field on Tuesday, they found live ammunition shells strewn across the parking lot. On closer inspection, they realized that their names were written on the shells. They canceled the night’s games and called the police. And now, the season has been canceled, too.
“It is very disheartening that there is someone in the league that is out to hurt somebody,” says Chad Secosky, head coach of the Norvelt Colts, a team in the league, which has teams for children ranging from 6 to 14.
While the season started off on a high note—the league celebrated its 50th year—soon anonymous letters arrived. First the letters expressed a general disgust. But they became more threatening, calling out people by name. League officials turned the letters over to the Pennsylvania State Police, yet the threats still flooded in; they became so serious that the league canceled a week of games.
When games resumed with added security, everything appeared normal. Then last week, two parents brawled in the parking lot. This week the shells arrived. The league had no choice but to cancel the rest of the season and Secosky says he doesn’t know if the league will survive. Over the years, the league faced irate parents, but nothing of the magnitude of the recent threats.
“We had a couple instances where fans, whether they are parents or grandparents, have been berating the refs. It’s insane,” he says. “What’s so important that you have to go to that level?”
Michele Borba, a parenting expert and TODAY contributor, says that while parents’ behavior as spectators in their children’s sports has worsened over the years, this level of anger remains unsettling.
“If you get into violence and bullying … the word is intentionality,” she says. “It gets really concerning. It gets purposefully planned and that is a lot of thought process and it takes it up to another scarier level.”
Parents misbehaving at their children’s game has become commonplace. In Iowa, police broke up a fight between parents at a girls’ basketball tournament. Sometimes the coaches are throwing the punches and those responsible jeopardize their jobs. In 2013, parents scrapped after a baseball playoff game for a league of 10-year-old players.
“We are an angrier group of people who don’t know how to sit on our hands and take a deep breath,” says Borba.
Much like the story in Mt. Pleasant, parents behaving badly most often impacts the children. Only weeks into the 2015 season, the San Diego Youth Football and Cheer League kicked two 14-and-under football teams out of its league after parents from the Otay Ranch Broncos and the Inland Empire Ducks brawled in the stands. Last year, the Greater Eastside Junior Football Association in Washington banned two teams from playing in the playoffs after the parents from the Bothell team battled parents from Renton.
“This is unfortunately how life is; it is not fair,” says Borba.
Secosky didn’t want his players to feel as if they can’t trust adults and he stressed that even though an adult’s behavior ended the season, most adults are good.
“[I] hope they don’t lose faith in adults. There is a lot more good out there than bad,” he says.
Borba recommends that parents chat with their children if they’ve witnessed other parents shouting or fighting. Ask the children how they felt seeing the fight, what the other kids thought of it, and then stress what parents want their kids to learn.
“You've really got to allow your child to talk it out and vent. Because it can build up if it is not listened to. The really moral, ethical kid or highly empathetic [kid], they are really impacted. Or the kid who really loves the sports … there are certain kids you have to put the antennas up and they need to be cared for,” she says.