HILLARY SMITH: Blame to spread when melee erupts

2013-12-15T21:00:00Z HILLARY SMITH: Blame to spread when melee eruptsHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 15, 2013 9:00 pm  • 

For the first time in 18 years of covering sports, I was required to write about an on-court scrum at a girls basketball game.

I've seen fights in hockey, of course, and a few brawls in baseball, but I've covered none in basketball, and certainly none at a girls game.

Then came Tuesday's Lake Central vs. Hobart nonconference matchup.

Here's the quick gist of what happened:

For most of the final quarter of the game, Lake Central, ahead by double figures, was passing the ball around the perimeter playing keep-away, and not trying to pile on the points.

The Hobart defense, which is trained to be pesky and physical, wasn't trying to foul, but instead was trying to steal the ball.

This was causing more and more frustration for the Indians, who had been defensively picked at all game.

A steal led to a chase after the ball was tipped away, which led to the call of a jump ball, at which point emotions overflowed and hitting away from the ball ensued.

The coaches quickly pulled the players apart and both were given flagrant fouls, ejected and had to sit out Friday's games.

In 2008, the Detroit Shock and L.A. Sparks erupted in the WNBA's first brawl.

At the time I wrote the following:

"An isolated incident is more a symptom of referees who let a heated rivalry game lose control. 'The game was getting out of hand physical-wise, and I warned (the ref) about that and she gave me a warning,' Shock coach Bill Laimbeer told the media after the game. 'But it started to escalate, and players are going to get emotional, and it happens sometimes. It's unfortunate, but it happens.'"

I'm going to repeat that here: This is an isolated incident, and it could have and should have been controlled on the floor.

By the end of the game, 42 fouls had been called. One player officially fouled out, five more had four fouls and there were the two ejections.

By sheer numbers, the assumption is that the refs were calling everything. But even from four rows back, the tension on the court was thick, so fans hope that three referees should feel it, too. 

Unfortunately, there's a difference between the "let them play" mentality and calling every single touch. No, refs can't see everything, but emotions should be felt.

The fouls called in the last four minutes included ticky-tacky touches and errant moves. Finally, Hobart coach Mike Hamacher asked the refs, "you're going to call that now?"

The referees don't care and shouldn't care which team wins. They have several jobs, none of which are easy and include keeping the peace, calling a fair game and doing all of this with vitriol from the crowd, the players and the coaches.

I'm not absolving either player of blame, or either team, but the mood could have been cut had the physicality of the game been tempered by those in charge of maintaining that order.

Both high school players showed immediate remorse, and frankly, that's the kind of sportsmanship fans should be proud to see when these kinds of incidents break out.

In this case, it should have never happened.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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