Volume 75, Number 27 | November 23 - 29, 2005

The DUSC U-14 boys team during practice on Pier 40 at W. Houston St.

Soccer dad is arrested for assault at Pier 40

By Judith Stiles

When teenage boys start fighting and the fists start flying, it is instinctive for parents to run over and try and break up the dispute, especially if their own children are in the middle of the brawl. For the first 45 minutes, it had been an ordinary soccer game when the 14-years-old-and-under Downtown United boys played a makeup game against the Brooklyn Italians under the lights on a Wednesday evening at Pier 40. But in the 46th minute, as DUSC manager Deb Cook looked down for just a second, a fight erupted among the players, resulting in a call to 911 and the subsequent arrest of a parent.

The game had begun with steady rain and disgruntled parents squaring off at opposite ends of the field. Both teams had been plagued by rain and cancellations all season, and even though an official referee did not show up, everyone wanted to get this game over with, except for Litzia Iodannis, who knew better, and adamantly advised not to play this game. Iodannis, mother of Fannis and two older man-sized teenage boys, had seen games spin out of control and get ugly without a licensed referee. “It all happened so fast. I looked up and I was shocked,” said DUSC’s Cook, describing seeing players from both sides attacking each other. At moments like this a qualified referee would have taken control of the game by penalizing and ejecting players by giving yellow and red cards for infractions. However, what kid was going to listen to an untrained parent referee who didn’t even carry red cards in his back pocket?

“How did this start, anyway?” some of the players were asking when the melee was finally over. It had been a 1-1 tie score, when DUSC forward Michael Rafty claimed that a Brooklyn Italian player pulled his shirt one too many times, which became so annoying that he gave his opponent a brisk shove back, which is not uncommon, sometimes worthy of a yellow card, sometimes not, and is often done when a ref is not looking. By all eyewitness accounts, in a split second a few more kids jumped in swinging, when Brooklyn Italians goalie Angel Cordero came out of the net in defense of his players, only to get a whack in the face and a bloody nose. Parent Vasill Rafty, known as Bill, was already out on the field with the boys, when several other parents from both teams darted onto the pitch to try and stop the fight.

The only thing manager Cook could hear was people yelling at the top of their lungs to get off the field. “In a moment, it had escalated beyond belief!” added Cook.

“When I saw my kid on the floor crying, that’s when I knew I had to do something,” said Joe Caruana, a Brooklyn Italian parent, explaining why he ran onto the field to help his son Joey who had been grabbed on the back of the neck and thrown to the ground. Within minutes the dust settled and as the fighting ended, both parents and players were seething and casting blame, all in agreement that the Cosmopolitan League had let them down by not ensuring a certified referee would be there to officiate. Next, Caruana took his son and goalie Cordero to the Pier 40 security office to call the police. The boys fully understood the gravity of accusing a parent of assault as they recounted the incident with police officers from the Sixth Police Precinct. They identified “the man in the green jacket” as the person who assaulted them which resulted in the arrest of DUSC parent Rafty.

The Sixth Police Precinct confirmed that Rafty was arrested and charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. According to reports, he was led off the field in handcuffs.

However, Cook insisted that Rafty did not punch anyone. “His own kid was at the bottom of a pile of kids and he went in to pull him out of harm’s way,” said Cook.

It is no surprise that 22 players and even more parents on a rainy night had significantly different accounts of what actually happened. But they all agreed that this game should never have been played without a licensed referee for the teenage boys. Even responsible adult players push the envelope on the pitch without a referee, with a few extra shirt pulls and shoves, maybe even an illegal trip, knowing they can get away with it. Ironically, veteran referee Manny D’Almeida was upstairs on Pier 40’s smaller rooftop field coaching girls, unaware of the fight down in the courtyard.

“This would never have happened with a good referee,” said D’Almeida, shaking his head. “I encourage players to play hard and tough, but punching is an automatic red card, and I immediately eject that player from the game,” said D’Almeida, who has overseen many high-testosterone games that could have easily gotten out of hand.

Predictably the rest of the U-14 boys game was cancelled, ending on a sour note, as players and parents refused to finish the match. In retrospect, parents from both sides conceded that although it is counterintuitive to stand still and stay on the sidelines when a fight breaks out, it is thoroughly counterproductive to run onto the field and get involved.

“Where my daughter plays in New Jersey, there is a policy of zero tolerance for disruptive behavior and that goes for both players and parents,” remarked Joe Caruana, noting this would have never happened in his daughter’s league. He agreed that in this day and age parents all too often fuel disruptive behavior among the players with hot-headed mindless yelling from the sidelines.

Even though recreational and travel teams play under the same umbrella at the Downtown United Soccer Club, the nature of the play is very different, although the rules are almost exactly the same. In sharp contrast to the competitive travel teams, the Downtown United recreational division has not used a yellow or red card in a single game for over 10 years in the Older Girls Division of which coordinator Dave Smith has been at the helm.

“Cards were never even an issue because the kids were there to have fun and learn something about the game,” Smith said, somewhat aghast that this recent travel team game ended so badly. In his book there is nothing wrong with a game that gets a bit chippy, but he strongly advises parents and players alike to go back to basics and remember why their kids started playing soccer in the first place — to learn the game while having some good old-fashioned fun with the ball.

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