Punched by teen player, Utah referee blows whistle on parents’ behavior

Sep 15, 2022, 6:00 PM | Updated: Sep 16, 2022, 4:59 pm
A referee tosses a coin before a football game between Brighton and Desert Hills in Cottonwood Heig...
A referee tosses a coin before a football game between Brighton and Desert Hills in Cottonwood Heights on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (Ben B. Braun/ Deseret News)
(Ben B. Braun/ Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — First it was Herriman, now Layton. Something needs to be done about parents behaving badly at ballgames. A Utah referee who was punched in the throat by a teen on the field suggests banning the child player of the misbehaving adult. 

A brawl between parents in Herriman, which was reportedly caused by a referee’s call, led to the game’s cancellation. Police stepped in and used their tasers to control the melee.

“Watching parents attacking each other, I saw fists. I saw people pulling people apart,” Melynda Epperson recounted. “I saw two police officers come onto the field pulling people apart. Coaches, refs pulling people apart.”

Referee says parents need to grow up

Nate Lewis, the referee who was punched, joins Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to share his experience as a referee, and offer suggestions on how to cool the temperature on the field between coaches, players and, most especially, parents.

He said a player, 15, had been ejected from the Ute Conference game for unsportsmanlike behavior. He told the player to calm down. He said the player had taken maybe two steps toward him and punched Lewis in the throat. Adults escorted the teen off the field.

Lewis said the referees at the game had warned coaches on both sides that the game was escalating emotionally. He added the adults could have stepped in to de-escalate the situation but didn’t; instead, the referees were left to take care of it.

“On our pregame coin toss with the players, we talked about that — it’s emotional and physical,” Lewis said. “Play hard and then help your teammate and help the competitor up. We encourage that, but what we don’t encourage is obviously the emotional outbursts of parents and coaches . . .  the players feed off of that. And so that’s where it starts, with the parents.”

Suspend kid for parent’s unsportsmanlike behavior?

“Do you think that they should go so far as if the parents act up, their child should be banned as well from the field?” Debbie asked the referee.

“You’d hate to impact a kid through their parent’s behavior,” Lewis said, adding something needs to be done. “At a minimum, the parent needs to be suspended for a minimum of — in my opinion — three weeks. 

“I was talking with some of the guys I ref with,” he said. “Let’s have the parents come out and spend a Saturday reffing with us and spent some time getting a real appreciation of what it’s like.”

“I think it would stop parents if they knew that they stepped onto that field, if they crossed that line, you’re not only out of there, your kid’s going with you,” Debbie said.

What if a referee walks away?

“This escalation not only is dangerous,” Dave said, “but I think ultimately what it does is it scares referees away from taking this job. . .. I’m really concerned about the future of referees. I just think people are gonna say, ‘Not worth it.'”

“Absolutely. I can tell you firsthand — I’ve being doing this now for about five years now — and I know of multiple accounts where guys just stepped away,” Lewis said.

He added referring is a side gig, and the money helps, but what the referees are in it for is the kids and watching them develop, play and compete.

“If this behavior continues, you’ll be in a spot where coaches are referring their own games or whatever that comes to, I don’t know. But it is something that obviously people need to take a hard look at,” Lewis said


May 5, 2013 — Ricardo Portillo of Salt Lake City died Saturday night after a week in a coma. Police have accused a 17-year-old player in a recreational soccer league of punching Portillo after he called a foul on him and issued him a yellow card.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Punched by teen player, Utah referee blows whistle on parents’ behavior