SALT LAKE CITY -- The commissioner of a little league football conference sent a sternly worded message to members after a weekend where he said he saw seven players and five coaches get ejected from games.
"The past couple of weeks with the start up of the 2015 season has been the worst I have seen since my involvement with the Ute Conference," Ute Conference Commissioner Mike Malitch stated in that letter.
The Ute Conference has around 9,000 players, ages 7 to 15.
"It did seem to get a little rowdy last weekend, and I don't know what the real cause was," said Debbie Reverman, the grandmother of a 10-year-old player in the conference.
She said it's sad the letter from Commissioner Malitch became necessary, but she said she recognizes the changes need to start, not on the field, but on the sidelines.
"I think it's important that all of us on the sidelines show good sportsmanship, whether, you know, we're winning or losing or whether we think the refs are calling it or not," Reverman said.
The behavior of the adults involved in youth sports is critical, says Maria Newton, who is a Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Utah. She said many kids quit sports between the ages of 11 and 12. According to her, one of the primary causes is sports losing their sense of fun because of parents and coaches berating the young athletes.
When the harsh criticism and equally jubilant praise comes from a parent, she says the problem is compounded.
“A kid is supposed to be loved by their parents regardless of how they do on the athletic field, and it becomes very easy for a kid to associate doing well on the athletic field with being loved," Newton said.
She calls sports a magnet that has the potential to help kids battle obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. To keep kids in sports, she says correcting behavior problems extends beyond the field of play.
She said: “You do have to get the coaches on board, you have to get the parents on board, you have to get the kids, and also the conference itself as to why are we here?”
That appears to be what Commissioner Malitch is trying to do with his letter, reminding the Ute Conference participants the primary concerns for the league are safety and sportsmanship. The league already has training in place for coaches and referees as well as code of conduct rules for athletes and their families. It also reviews all ejections before a player or coach can return to the field.
With tens of thousand of people involved every weekend, 12 ejections may seem small. But, as Commissioner Malitch noted in his letter to parents, it's probably more than in all of college football last weekend.
Still, a few bad cases is not spoiling the fun for thousands enjoying football and the lessons it brings.
"Football has a lot of life lessons, a lot of discipline, lessons to be focused," said Janet Huff, the mother of a 7-year-old football player. "You know there's just a few select people, you know don't let that ruin the game of football, the sportsmanship, because there are great parents out there, great kids, great refs."
The full letter can be viewed below: