common / Sports

Foot Brawl

AHSAA hits Leroy, Butler with fines for fight at game
By Chris Sherman
SA Sports Writer

David Delegal tries to seperate Choctaw County and Leroy players druing their brawl last Friday night. 
Photo by Laura Delegal David Delegal tries to seperate Choctaw County and Leroy players druing their brawl last Friday night. Photo by Laura Delegal What was supposed to be a typical Friday night 2A Region 1 football game between the Leroy Bears and Choctaw County Tigers in Butler took a turn for the worse when the two teams ended up in a bench-clearing brawl midway through the second quarter after several no-calls by the referees.

The end result was 42 ejections, 28 suspensions and close to $15,000 in fines split between the two schools after a review of the game tape by the Alabama High School Athletic Association. Choctaw County took the brunt of the penalties because it’s players left their sideline and rushed the Leroy bench. But Leroy was still hit hard.

The Bears had 12 players ejected from the game including four of the 11 offensive players that were on the field. Eight other players were ejected for coming off the sidelines onto the field during the fight. LHS was assessed $300 per ejection with each player who left the bench facing a two-game suspension under the National Federation High of High Schools and AHSAA coming-off-the-bench conduct rule. Leroy was also assessed an additional $1,000 and urged by the AHSAA to implement a mentoring program provided by the AHSAA for its coaches and players. The school was placed on probation for one year with the fines reaching $4,600 total. Each $300 fine could be reduced to $100 if the ejected player takes the STAR Sportsmanship Take 2 program within 10 days of the ejection. The $1,000 fine was reduced to $500 due to Leroy implementing a mentoring program.

“Leroy High School does not condone the actions displayed by our team during the contest and has accepted the penalties. We will implement a mentoring program being made available by the AHSAA and also plan to emphasize sportsmanship by utilitizing local leaders for further mentoring,” Leroy Principal Danny Patterson said in a prepared statement.

The melee all started when Choctaw County committed two facemask penalties that were not called by the referees, according to Leroy Head Coach Jason Bates.

Bates and the referees had a heated conversation over the two no-calls. Chaos then followed after a hard block by a Leroy player on a Choctaw County defender resulted in what Bates called a “shoving match”.

According to Bates, the Choctaw County defensive player “jumped up and started shoving” with a Leroy player. Five or six Tiger players then jumped in and that is when the brawl went into high gear.

This all occurred on the Leroy sideline. As players and coaches from LHS attempted to break up the fight, several parents and fans jumped the fence to assist in controlling the fight, according to Bates. At this point the entire Choctaw County football team left their sideline and approached the Leroy sideline.

“This game was allowed to get out of hand early. Our players and community were put in harm’s way,” Bates said. As for the parents coming onto the field, I never saw one parent act inappropriately. I never saw one parent do anything I wouldn’t do as a parent. I am 100 percent proud of the way our fans handled this situation. They were not instigating anything. The people that came out there were trying to get the situation stopped immediately,” Bates said.

“I am absolutely glad we have people that will do stuff like that for us. That is what I would expect out of a parent and loyal fan. They didn’t do anything to cross the line. They were trying to get the situation under control. Without them, we would have never been able to handle this by ourselves.The Leroy coaches and parents broke the fight up,” Bates added.

The Leroy coach also cited a lack of “police presence” during the game as another factor that allowed the situation to get to the point it did.

“I did not feel like they had enough security. When is enough, enough? That is something we are going to take a look at, at Leroy too. I am going to do a better job to make sure we have a strong law enforcement presence at every game,” a frustrated Bates added.

There was only one Butler police officer present at the beginning of the game because most of the department was working the city’s annual festival, Butlerfest. The department only has six full-time officers.

“Our annual festival was going on at the same time as this game. Prior to the fight we only had one officer at the game. We ended up with around nine officers there including the sheriff’s department,” Butler Police Chief Jimmy Huckeba said.

Huckeba said he typically has 2-3 officers covering a game, depending on how many local home games there are. While the AHSAA ruling has already come down on the two schools, criminal charges could also be on the horizon.

“We will be reviewing that tape Wednesday and, as for my department, until that happens, the matter remains under investigation,” Huckeba said. “We will look at the tape and interview those involved and make a decision at that time as to whether or not any charges will be filed. We had a lot of players from Choctaw County say they were going to press charges for assault after the game. I told them to come see me at my office Monday morning at 8 a.m and we would discuss it. We have not had anyone come by so far. But as far as us, I am not going to say there will or will not be charges filed until I watch the film,” Huckeba said.

Once the police were able to get the situation under control, Leroy players were asked to leave their uniforms and helmets on and were escorted, with their heads down and in a singlefile line, out of the stadium and onto the buses. The police escorted Leroy until they reached Gilbertown.

The game was called by Huckeba after Leroy Principal Danny Patterson and the Choctaw County coaching staff agreed that it would not be safe to continue play.

“I stopped the game because of security concerns and the fact that referees told me that neither team had enough players left to continue the football game,” Huckeba said. “I only have a handful of officers, and we did not have enough manpower to handle such a potentially volatile situation.”

Since both schools agreed to terminate the contest in the second quarter for safety reasons, according to NFHS rules, the 20-12 score at the time will be the game’s final score with Choctaw County the game’s winner.

AHSAA Director Steve Savarese commended both schools for their willingness to take steps to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

“It is our first responsibility to try and teach, even if it follows something unsportsmanlike, and try to make something positive from it,” Savarese said. “That is our first job. We look at all information, access a penalty, but we move forward and we learn from it.”

All 11 Choctaw County players on the field at the time of the altercation were ejected. A total of 20 other Choctaw players were ejected for coming off the sidelines onto the field. Choctaw County High School was assessed $300 per ejection with each player who left the bench facing a two-game suspension under the NFHS and AHSAA coming-off-the- bench conduct rule. CCHS was also assessed an additional $1,000 fine, bringing their fine total to $10,300. The school was urged by the AHSAA to implement a mentoring program provided by the AHSAA for its coaches and players.

“The administration, coaches and football team ask that you accept our deepest apologies for the episode that took place this past Friday night. It was not our intention to create such an awkward and embarrassing situation for the school, the community or the AHSAA. We can, however, learn from this unfortunate experience. We have grown and learned alternative approaches to these situations,” CCHS Principal Kevin Howard said in a prepared statement.

Leroy travels to Flomaton Friday night. The Bears will be without eight suspended players. Bates said he has a clear message for his team.

“There are right ways and wrong ways of doing things. It is our job to teach them to make the right decisions in adverse situations. It may not always be the decision we want to make, but it is the decision we have to make at that time. We will learn from this and grow from it. We are not going to run away or shy away from the unity we are trying to build with this team. We have to use it as a learning tool to teach them how to handle adverse situations. It was a no-win situation,” Bates said.

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