Paul Hepditch was only thinking of player safety when he asked two parents to leave the gymnasium at the suggestion of game officials.
Hepditch served as the tournament convenor for the 2014 West Coast Provincial Grade 6 Basketball Tournament hosted by C. C. Loughlin School over the weekend. A physical education teacher at the host school, Hepditch is also coach of the C. C. Loughlin entry that went on to win the gold medal Saturday with a 57-32 win over J. J. Curling in the championship game.
It was during Saturday afternoon’s semifinal showdown between J. J. Curling and Humber Elementary — a game won by J. J. Curling that gave them a berth in the final — that Hepditch had to step in and deal with an uncomfortable situation involving the game officials and a couple of parents of players suited up for the Humber Elementary team.
Sean Bennett and Earle Blake, both members of the Western Newfoundland Association of Basketball Officials, were the two referees in charge of the semifinal contest.
According to Hepditch, Blake felt he was taking too much heckling from a particular parent during the game so he wanted the man removed from the gymnasium. It was only five minutes after the first guy left the gym that Bennett asked for a second parent to be removed because of persistent heckling and abuse directed his way.
Officials have every right to ask for a fan to be removed from the game if they feel their actions warrant such, said Hepditch, but it’s the responsibility of the tournament convenor to ensure the person or persons is removed from the premises.
Hepditch had no qualms about ensuring the smooth flow of the game so he asked both men to leave. Even though there were a few comments directed back at him, there was no further incident once both had left the building and the game picked up where it left off before the disruption.
“If you can’t back your officials then that’s not very good,” Hepditch said Monday.
Hepditch has been around the game long enough to know emotions get the best of people, whether it’s players, coaches and fans, from time to time. He was actually on the receiving end of a technical foul during one of his team’s round-robin games where he questioned the official on a call he had made against his team.
However, he said it’s paramount to provide a safe environment for all participants and the officials have to be able to call the game to the best of their ability without fear of a parent getting out of hand at a basketball game featuring elementary children. He’s been hosting tournaments and helping organize tournaments for years, but it’s the first time he had to deal with such an incident.
“With regards to people having to leave the gym that was the first time I ever had to be part of that and that’s not comfortable for me,” he said.
Bennett is a Level 4 official who has been calling games for 27 years. He really didn’t want to get into a discussion about what transpired on the hardwood, but he’s concerned about the ability to keep officials engaged when incidents like Saturday’s situation arise from time to time.
“That was the first time I’d say in a long while where I’ve asked a parent to leave the gymnasium,” Bennett said. “But, it’s scaring away younger officials. Most of the time you see me and Doug Jewer or one of the older officials because the younger ones just aren’t doing it.”
Tom Stewart, president of the Western Newfoundland Association of Basketball Officials and the Western regional director for the Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association, said these types of incidents are “very rare” in basketball and said it was the first of its kind this year.
He spoke to both officials, as well as a number of parents who witnessed the event, and ultimately agreed with the decision to have the parents removed. While he was surprised at the incident itself, he wasn’t shocked it happened in this young of an age group.
“You have parents who are new to the sport and players who are new to the sport,” he said. “I find, as the years go on, parents, players and coaches get more seasoned and you don’t see this kind of stuff.”