Friday, February 9, 1996
Referee beatings in Ky. become spectator sport

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Basketball became a game of numbing brutality this week.

Do the math.

One berserk coach and 10 teen-age players beat two referees at an amateur league game in Campbell County. About 100 people watch in horror from the stands. Only four individuals try to help.

Where was everybody else?

Referees Brian Sizemore and Dave Wolfe became human punching bags after calling off a Sunday afternoon game. They called the game when a coach, James Pouncy, blew up after earning his second technical foul and automatic expulsion.

Minutes after being escorted from the gym, the coach ''came flying back at a dead sprint toward us,'' Mr. Wolfe recalls. ''I tried to stop him. But he tackled Brian. I tried to get Mr. Pouncy off Brian. That's when I got hit in the head with a metal folding chair.''

By a player. A kid.

Then other players joined their coach in beating the downed refs.

Mr. Sizemore was kicked, punched and scratched, drilled in the head with a basketball and decked by a folding chair. He's a walking welt.

It was worse for Mr. Wolfe. Four chipped teeth, one broken nose and a possible fractured jaw. ''I won't know for sure about the jaw,'' he says through a stuffed nose, ''until I get my X-rays back.''

Violent scene

After the Bandits left, the refs - in their blood-splattered black-and-white striped shirts - sat up and wondered: ''Why didn't more people help us?''

Today, as they recover from their wounds and plan to file suits, they're still wondering.

So am I.

Where was everybody else?

''It was complete chaos,'' says Alexandria Police Detective Dan Wittrock, the first officer on the scene. ''People were hysterical, screaming and crying. Grown men were in fear of their lives.''

Parents from the opposing team had gathered their players and formed a protective semicircle along the top rows of the bleachers.

One parent, Jeanna Salamone, left her front-row seat - ''I always sit there to be close to the action'' - and tried to rescue Mr. Sizemore. ''I knew a lot of the kids, and I screamed at them by name.''

Her screams were met by a Bandit wielding a folding chair. He instructed her to ''Back off, bitch!''

''It happened so quickly and so violently, everyone was terrified as the two referees crawled to opposite ends of the gym trying to get away,'' she says.

''The (L.A. riot) scene where Reginald Denny was dragged from the truck and beaten had nothing on this one.''

This was a big game. Both teams, the Bandits and the H and W Sport Shop squad, were undefeated. It was essentially for the league championship. And, H and W was beating the Bandits, 39-26.

''But it was only a game,'' says Alexandria Police Chief Ed Stein. ''There's no need to do this to someone.''

Taking a stand

The consensus among the referees and Ms. Salamone is that the beating lasted five to eight minutes and the Bandits left the gym when a woman held up her cellular phone and screamed she had just called the police.

The Bandits weren't scared off by the cops. They had another game to play. A late-afternoon date at Scott High School in Taylor Mill. They played that game. And, they won.

But, I can't think about the Bandits. To me, they are an alien life form. My mind is on those 100 people cowering in the bleachers. And I wonder:

Would I have tried to stop the beating? Ten punks in roundball uniforms kicking two defenseless men. No weapons. No dark alley. Just kids in a high-school gym on a Sunday afternoon.

Then I ask myself: Do I enjoy having all of my teeth in my head? Do I like my glasses in one piece? Am I a card-carrying chicken? Well, yes. Maybe if more than one Jeanna Salamone had stepped forward I would have joined in. Maybe I need a small group, four or five, to lead the way. I don't feel good about that. But I have a hunch I'm not alone on this.

These days we have to double-team the bad guys. I still hope we outnumber them. And that we never lose that advantage.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.