Time to act is now
Alexandra Matteucci says violent acts in youth sports are increasing both in frequency and severity.
She should know. The subject is now her life’s work, something she embraced after having her life’s love stolen away. She’s been telling anyone willing to listen for the past dozen years that violence involved in youth sports is on the rise.
She should know. The subject is the driving force behind The Joseph Matteucci Foundation, which she founded for “youth non-violence on our playing fields, in our home, in our schools, in our world.”
We should know, she said, the importance of taking a proactive approach in addressing the potential dangers of violence in our youth sports leagues, from the Saturday morning recreation leagues to the prime-time varsity games of a Friday night.
Alexandra, who lives in Castro Valley, wasted little time in making that clear during a phone interview this week.
“Sharing a personal story is probably the most efficient way to get people to understand – on an emotional level – what we’re talking about,” she said. “And why this is so important.”
So, here’s her story.
The story is actually about her son, Joseph, but he’s dead, so it’s left for her to tell.
One day in the spring of 1993, Alexandra’s 17-year-old high school junior went to pick up a friend who was pitching in a baseball game.
Joseph got there in time to catch the final inning of play, unknowingly watching the game next to a pair of spectators who had been trash talking with one of the team’s catchers. Apparently, the name-calling had escalated into racial remarks.
Once the game ended, the catcher Ð whose team lost by one run Ð vowed to “settle the score,” approaching the two spectators with a bat in hand and said “I’m going to kill you.” The spectator he intended to strike moved out of the way, leaving the swing free to strike Joseph Matteucci in the back of the head, crushing his brain stem.
He never regained consciousness.
“Most parents think a safe place to take kids is a youth sports event or a school event, but we’re finding more and more that’s not the case,” she said. “That’s a very disturbing fact.”
She knows her stuff, something made clear in her quick understanding of two violent incidents that recently broke out – one during, one after – ball games in western Nevada County. One involved a volunteer coach, allegedly verbally abusing a 19-year-old college student who was officiating a fifth-grade basketball game. The other incident, an apparent brawl between students from rival schools, occurred weeks earlier at a Grass Valley fast food restaurant following a varsity basketball game.
“They use young people to officiate those (recreation league) games and a lot of times you see parents jumping all over those poor kids, yelling at them right in their face,” she said. “And with the officials being young, that creates a situation with the other parent – the parent of the official – who might say ‘You’re not going to do this to my kid.'”
“We’ve found that school officials like to say ‘There’s nothing we can do about fights off campus,'” she said. “But it’s never unreasonable to look to the outside of the campus for people who are able to deal with situations like that.
“It’s very, very important that schools and youth sports leagues have some kind of procedure or plan in place to deal with these kinds of things.”
Not dealing with the problem – sweeping such incidents under the rug as isolated acts of violence – is not the answer.
Alexandra remembers, very vividly, one of her earliest brushes with violence in youth sports. Joseph was 12 at the time and playing in a youth baseball league. There she was sitting in the stands to watch her son play ball, when she was shocked to hear a heated argument break out between a parent in the stands and one of the team’s managers.
“It was totally out of control. I remember saying “Somebody should do something about this. This kind of thing can’t be tolerated,'” Alexandra said. “I mean, I asked them if this was normal?
“The answer I got was you can’t go to the board meetings. They’re closed. But you can write a letter to the board of directors, but nothing will come of it.”
After the game, Alexandra and Joseph were leaving the parking lot when the same two adults approached each other again, this time the confrontation erupted into a full-blown fist fight.
Stuck behind rubber-necked drivers watching the melee in the parking lot, Alexandra and Joseph could only sit there and watch, as well. The sight was too much for the son, sending him into tears and inspiring him to later turn in his uniform.
“He told me ‘I don’t want to play, Mom,” she said.
What could she say, but ‘OK’?
“And five years later, he was killed at a baseball game,” she said. “It’s really a tough thing for me, to think back to that day, when we had to sit there and watch that (fist fight). It makes me think ‘Had I done more, had I done something about this when he was 12, maybe the same thing wouldn’t have happened at 17.’
“That sent a message to me that not reporting these things, not saying something, not getting involved … that’s not the answer.
“We need to say this is not OK. And, as a society, we’re not going to allow these types of things to happen.”
Certainly, the recent incidents of violence at local sports events reported in The Union don’t seem nearly as serious as the story Alexandra shares.
But does that mean we should wait for such a story to happen here before we begin such a discussion?
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears Saturdays. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4240.
For more information on The Joseph Matteucci Foundation and Youth Non-Violence click onto http://www.jmf4peace.org or call (510) 889-7451.
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